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The American Beverage Association represents the largest non-alcoholic beverage companies in the United States, with ubiquitous consumer products. Among these products are sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, lemonades, and sports drinks.

In 2016, Cook County, Illinois – which encompasses Chicago and many suburbs, making it the second-most populous county in the United States at more than 5 million residents – passed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, adding a penny per ounce to each beverage or set of beverages with the aim of reducing their consumption by the general public. While an extra 16 cents on an individual bottle isn’t dire, adding $1.44 to a 12-pack amounted to a roughly 30% tax.

Because of the demographics – in Chicago and elsewhere – of both buyers and sellers of sugar-sweetened beverages, this well-intentioned legislation was in practice a regressive tax with outsized impacts on small business owners (local grocers, convenience store owners, and restaurants) and on residents who lacked easy access to affordable and high-quality fresh food items.

To combat this issue Dewey Square Group created, branded, and promoted the #CanTheTax campaign, urging the Cook Country board to repeal the tax. Dewey Square Group engaged directly with residents, community groups, and small business owners to source personal, real-life anecdotes of those impacted, and quantified the business and personal financial impact of the legislation. Ultimately, through community-based engagement, grassroots organizing, and broad-based awareness messaging the campaign drove a high volume of messages and calls to members of the board.

After initially passing by a close 9-8 vote in November 2016, the tax was repealed just two months after going into effect by a much wider 15-2 margin.