CHICAGO — Diet Coke heads, take note: Just because the sugar in your pop is fake, you'll still be paying more for it starting Wednesday as Cook County's sweetened beverage tax finally goes into effect, adding a penny per ounce to the cost of bottled drinks.
The tax will hike the price of a 2-liter bottle by 68 cents and a six-pack by 72 cents.
Though often dubbed the "pop tax," the fee, narrowly approved in November 2016 by the Cook County Board, actually applies to hundreds of beverages beyond soft drinks.
The tax is expected to raise $200 million a year for Cook County, which the county needs to keep its books out of the red, according to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Cook County, which has 5.2 million residents, will become the largest municipality in the nation to impose a tax on sugary drinks.
WHAT BEVERAGES WON'T BE TAXED?
If you're worried your sparkling water habit will cost you more, don't freak out: La Croix has no added sugar, other sweeteners or sugar substitute — so the tax will not apply. If you get charged for it (it's happened before) let us know.
Exemptions include beverages containing 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, infant formula and liquids sold as meal replacements. Products that contain at least 50 percent milk, or a milk substitute, also are exempt.
Another way to circumvent the fee: Buy drink mixes. Packets of Swiss Miss and the like are, for now, not included in the tax ordinance.
- La Croix, Perrier, and other sparkling waters that do not contain sugar or sweeteners.
- 100% natural fruit/vegetable juice, syrup and powder with no added sweetener
- Milk, soy, rice, or similar milk substitutes that are the primary ingredient (more than 50%)
- Unsweetened drinks to which a purchaser can add, or can request that a retailer add, sugar, at the point of sale (such as unsweetened black iced tea or coffee)
- Infant formula
- Beverages for medical use
- Weight reduction/therapeutic nutritional meal replacements
- Any syrup or powder that the consumer combines with other ingredients to create a beverage
WHAT WILL BE TAXED? EVERYTHING ELSE
The American Beverage Association, which lobbied aggressively against the tax, has circulated a sample list of affected drinks, which runs 11 pages. (Check out the full list below)
A spokesman for the Cook County Bureau of Finance said that since the list was generated by an outside source, the bureau couldn't "confirm its accuracy with complete certainty."
But all the drinks listed do fit the criteria outlined in the tax ordinance.
Those criteria are: "any nonalcoholic beverage, carbonated or noncarbonated, which is intended for human consumption and contains any caloric sweetener or noncaloric sweetener, and is available for sale in a bottle or produced for sale through the use of syrup and/or powder."
The definition of "bottle," per the ordinance, encompasses any sealed container — including cans and juice boxes — made of any material (glass, plastic, metal, etc.).
Beyond obvious culprits like Coca-Cola and Pepsi products, the soft drinks category includes everything from San Pellegrino Limonata to Ocean Spray Sparkling Cranberry Juice to Yoo Hoo.
Sport drinks, fruit beverages, energy drinks, tea and coffee drinks and "enhanced" waters also are targeted by the tax: Gatorade, Powerade, Capri Sun, Minute Maid, Nantucket Nectars, Red Bull, Frappuccino, Tazo, SoBe and Glaceau Vitaminwater are just a few of the brands subject to the tax.
In promoting the levy, Preckwinkle linked sweetened beverages to diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and obesity.
An anti-tax coalition — including the American Beverage Association, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association — continues to argue that the new fee will have a negative effect on businesses.
HOW WILL THE TAX BE COLLECTED?
The tax will apply to sweet drinks in Chicago, where there's already a 3 percent tax on retail sales of soft drinks in cans or bottles and a 9 percent tax on the wholesale price of fountain drink syrup.
Drinks bought by families in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program won't be slapped with the additional tax, as it violates federal law.
Here's the full list of beverages eligible for the new tax: