Vermont considers "sin tax" on sugary drinks
New York City is awaiting a NY Supreme Court ruling on whether its law capping soda size at 16 ounces will go into effect next month.
Vermont is taking the idea in a somewhat different direction. The VT House of Representatives is considering a "sin" tax on sugary drinks, such as soda and sports drinks. Health advocates in Vermont are pushing to passage of a penny-per-ounce tax.
If it were to pass, it would mean (perhaps obviously) a 64 ounce soda would cost 64 cents more.
The Big Gulp has gotten a lot of attention during the soda campaign in NYC.
Convenience stores owners, grocery retailers, and the Beverage Association of Vermont don't like the idea. One retailer told the Burlington Free Press that he's only 12 miles from the New Hampshire border, and people will likely start going there to save money.
The Alliance for a Healthier Vermont, which includes 38 organizations, such as the American Heart Association, Fletcher Allen Medical Center, and the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, says the new tax will help educate people about the causes of obesity. The Alliance says the tax will raise $27 million to counter the damage caused by over-consumption of sugary drinks.
The bill funnels half the revenues to help subsidize Vermonters health-insurance costs. The rest would be used for things like school meals for children from low income families, automated teller terminals at farmers markets, and loans to small food retailers to help them buy energy-efficient refrigeration equipment, to make it easier to sell fruits and vegetables.
The "Nanny State"
Ever since NYC started talking about a soda cap, questions about personal choice and the "nanny state" have come up.
Here's a link to Jon Stewart's hilarious take on the issue.
A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle spoke with nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle:
SFC: I don't care if sodas are bad for us. The question is "Whose choice is it?" And what role should the nanny state play in this issue?
Nestle defends the so-called nanny state.
MN: As an advocate for public health, I think a soda cap makes sense. Sixteen ounces provides two full servings, about 50 grams of sugars, and 200 calories – 10 percent of daily calories for someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day.
You may not care whether sodas are bad for health, but plenty of other people do. These include, among others, officials who must spend taxpayer dollars to care for the health of people with obesity-related chronic illnesses, employers dealing with a chronically ill workforce, the parents and teachers of overweight children, dentists who treat tooth decay, and a military desperate for recruits who can meet fitness standards.
Poor health is much more than an individual, personal problem. If you are ill, your illness has consequences for others.
According to an un-cited statistic in Wikipedia, six states currently tax soda above the regular sales tax, although not the penny-per-ounce tax Vermont is considering. It's hard to call this a trend at this point. And it hasn't gotten support at the federal level. President Obama tried to tax soda in his health care reform law, but he backed down in the face of beverage industry lobbying.