‘Soda Tax’ Advocates Push For Legislation

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(Host) Advocates for a tax on soda and so-called ‘sugar sweetened beverages’ are hoping that lawmakers will consider their plan in the second half of the session.

They say the bill is needed to help reduce the incidence of obesity in Vermont. But opponents argue the legislation puts the state in the position of being "the food police."

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation would add a one cent per ounce tax to soda and other beverages that contain a fair amount of sugar. So a two liter bottle of soda would have a new 60 cent tax.

According to a report released by Attorney General Bill Sorrell, roughly one in five Vermonters is now considered to be obese. It’s a number that has doubled in the last 20 years.

Nicole Lucas is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. It’s one of more than 20 health and consumer groups backing the tax.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Lucas said there’s a clear link between the consumption of sugar beverages and obesity.

(Lucas) "We know they’re the largest contributor to calories for added sugars in our diets and we know that higher intakes of these kinds of drinks are associated with more calories higher weight lower intake of other nutrients and worse health outcomes."

And Lucas thinks imposing the tax will reduce the consumption of these beverages.

(Lucas) "Projections coming out of think tanks like Robert Wood Johnson Foundation the Congressional Budget Office they project that it’s going to have a similar impact as tobacco taxes that it is going to lower consumption but that’s why we want evaluation because we want to see what’s going to happen."

(Kinzel) Jim Harrison is the executive director of the Vermont Grocers Association – a group that opposes the tax. He says a lot of beverages would come under the scope of the bill.

(Harrison) "So we’re talking a very significant portion of beverages that many Vermont customers purchase and having the heavy hand of government to just add taxes to them because the government knows best what items you should or shouldn’t purchase seems a little heavy handed to us."

(Kinzel) And Harrison isn’t convinced that imposing the tax will have an impact on consumption.

(Harrison) "Taxes aren’t the way to resolve that and get us back into balance people need to do that we need to make proper decisions for our own food and beverages."

(Kinzel) The tax is projected to raise roughly $35 million a year.  Backers of the tax say they want most of this money to be allocated for nutrition, education, and health programs.

(Kinzel) They say they might withdraw their support for the plan if a lot of the revenue is used for other purposes.

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




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