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Chicago restaurants get last-minute reprieve from drink tax

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Restaurants and other beverage sellers in Chicago have been given a reprieve through at least July 12 from a county-mandated increase in soft drink prices.

A judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday to stop a soft drink tax from taking effect on July 1 in Cook County, Ill., the densely populated area that encompasses Chicago and a portion of its suburbs. Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak issued the stay just 12 hours before the tax was set to take effect, after the measure’s constitutionality was challenged by retailers. A suit contesting the tax’s legality was filed last week by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocery chains.

The Cook County tax was adopted not as a means of curbing consumption of sugared soft drinks, but as a straightforward revenue booster. Proponents cite a likely decrease in calorie intake as a secondary benefit.

The measure would have increased the cost of sugared beverages by a penny per ounce.  Although the charge is levied on distributors, the increased cost was expected to be channeled down to the retail and restaurant level.

A penny-an-ounce tax on soft drinks was adopted in March 2015 by Berkeley, Calif., but largely as a means of combatting obesity. Consumption of sugared beverages within the city fell 21% in the months afterward, according to a study.

Surrounding areas, meanwhile, saw a 4% uptake in soft drink sales.

Several other cities, including Seattle and Philadelphia, have since adopted soft drink taxes. Like Cook County, Philadelphia pushed the measure as a means of generating revenues, with the health benefits presented as secondary side effects. 

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