Shumlin Will Oppose Soda Tax In 2012

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(Host) The Shumlin Administration will oppose a tax on soda and other sugar sweetened beverages during the 2012 Legislative session.

Health commissioner Dr. Harry Chen says he’d support a federal tax on those products, but Chen says it would be a mistake for Vermont to go it alone on the issue.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more:

(Kinzel) Backers of the sugar sweetened beverage tax want to impose a one cent per ounce tax on these products – so a two liter bottle of soda would cost roughly an additional 60 cents.

They say one of the biggest factors in the growing rate of obesity in Vermont is the consumption of these beverages. It’s estimated that the average adult drinks about 50 gallons of sugar sweetened beverages a year.

Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen agrees that these drinks represent a health problem but he says the Governor doesn’t think imposing a new state tax is the right thing to do.

(Chen) "Both of us would be very supportive of a federal tax. I think we understand very easily that the fact that Vermont is not an island and whatever we decide to do in Vermont really has to play an impact in terms of tax policy in terms of businesses and the fact that we have such a large border with both New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts."

(Kinzel) Chen says there’s no question that the current culture that has led to higher obesity rates must be changed – but he says there’s no single solution.

(Chen) "That culture may be drinking less sugar sweetened beverages, making sure that schools don’t have them in their vending machines, looking at the vending machines in state office buildings, and the food that’s available in state cafeteria and food service areas. So if we’re going to change the culture I have to say that I think it’s going to be more than just a simple tax on one particular item."

(Kinzel) Peter Sterling is a spokesperson for a coalition of health and consumer groups that are supporting the tax. He says he’s disappointed by the Commissioner’s approach to this issue.

(Sterling) "We feel that if the Administration was really concerned with decreasing health care costs and increasing people’s health we would do the one thing we could do to decrease consummation of unhealthy products which is raise their price."

(Kinzel) Sterling says the tax would raise around $30 million a year and he’d like to see a good chunk of this money devoted to a comprehensive public education campaign about obesity.

(Sterling) "The proposal before the Legislature would use a significant amount of the revenue raised from the sugar sweetened excise tax to fund a public education campaign much like the one that was funded with tobacco revenues."

(Kinzel) Sterling says his group will continue to push for this tax in January and he hopes a majority of lawmakers can be persuaded to support the plan.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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