The House Health Care committee is taking a serious look at a plan to impose a tax on sugar sweetened beverages but opponents of the tax are launching a consumer campaign against the legislation.
The proposal would add a penny per ounce to the cost of a sugar sweetened beverage. It would apply to soda, many sports drinks and some partial juice products.
So a 20 ounce bottle of soda would have a 20 cent tax and the tax on a two liter bottle would be 64 cents.
Tina Zuk is the Communications Director in Vermont for the American Heart Association. Her group is one of 38 health and consumer organizations supporting the tax.
Zuk says the average Vermonter consumes 50 gallons of soda a year and she thinks it’s a major cause of obesity and health related issues.
"They’ve added about a fifth of the weight gain in the U.S. population over those years and they are causing diseases like cancer, and stroke and heart disease," said Zuk. "So something needs to be done about them and we see the tax as a solution in the same way that we saw with tobacco if you significantly increase the price of the product it’s going to serve as deterrent."
Jim Harrison is the President of the Vermont Grocers Association. His group is one of many beverage related businesses that are opposed to the new tax. He disputes the link between the rise in obesity and the consumption of soda.
"It’s not caused by sweetened beverages it’s caused by in general many of us consume too many calories and we don’t expend enough," said Harrison. "It’s really simple math. To single out one item and try and make it a scapegoat is very unfortunate and really misses the point."
Lincoln Rep. Mike Fisher is the chairman of the House Health Care committee. He says his panel is taking a very serious look at this plan.
"If we are convinced that the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, if we can reduce the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages than that we will have an impact on the negative health incomes that’s the prime motivator for a bill like this."
The Governor wants to raise new revenue to make health care coverage more affordable for low income Vermonters. He wants to impose a one percent tax on all health care claims and he wants to penalize small businesses that don’t offer health care coverage to their employees.
Fisher says his committee is looking at the soda tax as an alternative to the Governor’s plan.
"The committee is interested in talking about sugar sweetened so ultimately we are talking about the committee’s priorities between the different revenue sources."
The committee is expected to make a decision about the sugar sweetened beverage tax in the next few weeks.