Backers of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages say their plan is needed to help curb the rising epidemic of obesity in Vermont. But opponents argue that it's wrong to use the taxing power of the state to try to influence personal behavior.
Under this plan, the state would impose a tax of 2 cents per ounce for all sugar sweetened beverages. So a 20-ounce bottle of soda or lemonade would have a 40-cent tax.
It's estimated that the proposal would raise roughly $35 million. The money would help finance a number of health care programs and provide low income people with healthy foods.
Anthony Iarrapino is the director of the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont, a coalition of 30 consumer and health groups that support the tax. He says there's a clear link between the consumption of these sugary drinks and the rising rate of obesity.
"This is the first generation of American kids that are predicted to live shorter lives than their parents unless we do something dramatic to curb obesity,” Iarrapino says.
Iarrapino says Vermont's experience with higher tobacco taxes shows that consumption will be reduced as a product becomes more expensive.
"We've seen the tobacco tax has both been effective in curbing smoking rates, particularly among price-sensitive youth consumers, and we've seen that it has been successful in raising money to pay for education and prevention programs as well as affordable health care,” Iarrapino says.
Jim Harrison is the director of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, a group that opposes the tax. He says the tobacco analogy is way off base.
"Tobacco is in a category of its own,” Harrison says. “The health risks of tobacco are well documented and we tax them both at the federal and state level. This is very, very different. We go down this path, what's next?"
And Harrison says border communities will suffer economic consequences if this bill becomes law.
"This is a social experiment. No other state has done anything like this. What we're going to do is send business out of state, and none of the other surrounding states do anything anywhere remotely close to this with beverages,” Harrison says.
The legislation is being reviewed by the House Health Care committee.