Taxing Treats

Sugar-sweetened beverages are in the hot seat again as lawmakers propose a tax increase that would use the revenue to prevent, treat and research diet-related health conditions.


Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced in July the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax or SWEET Act that would impose an excise tax – one levied on beverage distributors that will cause shelf prices to rise – of one-cent per teaspoon on drinks such as sodas, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks.

That would add about nine cents to a 12-ounce can of Coke.At the local level, voters in San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., will be asked in November to take a stand on whether to increase taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages by two cents and one-cent, respectively. Supporters of the tax hike say that it will help with obesity, diabetes and other health concerns.

The American Public Health Association, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have given their support to the bill. On the other side of the table and a major opponent to the proposed bill is the American Beverage Association (ABA), which has called it “an old idea” that always fails to gain traction. “People don’t support taxes and bans on common grocery items, like soft drinks,” ABA Senior Director of Public Affairs Christopher Gindlesperger told The Hill. “That’s why the public policy debate in the U.S. has moved away from taxes and bans and onto real solutions.”

The National Automatic Merchandising Association has also announced its opposition to the tax. Even if the SWEET Act is approved, most middle- and low-income consumers who spend a higher percentage of their incomes on those beverages will still purchase sugary drinks and be financially hit the hardest, the association says in a press release.

In an effort to voluntarily become part of the solution around nutritional education, the ABA removed full-calorie soft drinks from schools and put calorie labels on all packaging. NAMA launched its “FitPick” in 2005, which is a labeling program that helps identify better-for-you products in vending machines that meet nutritional guidelines.

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