State

California lawmakers to consider new sugar tax

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Soda.

With a democratic super-majority, momentum is building in Sacramento for a sugar tax. The idea is to make sugary snacks and drinks just as expensive as their healthier counterparts. The controversial bill is before the State Senate's Government and Finance committee.

Holding 16 packets of sugar to illustrate how much is put into a 20-ounce bottle of soda, state Senator Bill Monning, D-Carmel convinced a committee it's time to tackle California's weight problem by approving a sugar tax.

"Sugary drinks are the leading contributor of increased caloric intake leading to obesity and preventable chronic diseases among children," said Monning.

The penny-per-ounce tax would add 12-cents to every can of soda and other sugary beverages including sweet teas and energy drinks.

People would pay an extra 20 cents for a regular bottle of any sweetened beverage, which would be on top of the existing recycling fee. Drinks under 25 calories are exempt.

The estimated $2.6 billion collected in the first year will help fund programs that fight and prevent childhood obesity and while the latest statistics show obesity rates in California children are finally leveling off, 38 percent are still overweight or obese.

"What's really distressing as a pediatrician is that there's a disproportionate burden of obesity seen in the low income youth and youth of color," said Dr. Kristine Madsen of University of California, San Francisco Children's Hospital.

A sugar tax has previously been a tough sell. Previous proposals have failed in the Legislature. Also, Bay Area voters in Richmond and Southern California voters in El Monte have both voted down similar measures.

The beverage industry acknowledges California's calorie problem and is working on developing more alternatives.

But it cannot support a tax just on their products.

"We think singling out one source of calories for people is not the best way. It's not fair. It's not appropriate to lay the burden entirely on soft drink consumption because that's not the whole story," said Bob Ackermann of the California Nevada Soft Drink Association.

California has already banned artery-clogging transfats, and opponents of the sugar tax think politicians need to stop telling people what to eat and drink.

"Government has got to understand that people have choices in this country," said St. Sen. Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley.

The sugar tax proposal now heads to the Senate Health Committee which is headed by a Doctor.

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