California lawmakers debate soda tax proposal

April 25, 2011 6:54:41 PM PDT
There is no denying that sugary-sweet soft drinks contribute to obesity, but are they so responsible they should be singled out for a special tax.

That was the focus of a debate Monday by lawmakers in Sacramento.

"That's the equivalent amount of added sweetener in a 20 fluid ounce bottle," argued Democratic Assemblyman Bill Monning of Carmel, holding up about 16 packets of sugar.

With science to back him up, Monning pleaded before the Revenue and Tax Committee to approve his soda tax proposal. It would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in California. A typical can of soda would cost 12 cents extra. The money would help fight childhood obesity.

"In the last 30 years, the average American's caloric intake has increased by 300 calories, and 43 percent of those additional calories come from soda consumption," said family practice Dr. Kitty Hart.

But, the beverage industry also brought in an expert to point out the obesity problem is so complex that it cannot be solved by targeting just one food item.

"Back in the 80's, when we tended to focus only on fat, we said that was the most important thing. People then switched to other foods that didn't contain a lot of fat and we still continued to get fat," said dietician Lisa Katic.

The bill failed, with members saying parents and individuals should be responsible for what they drink, not government. In an era of budget cuts, the soda tax would have brought in $1.7 billion a year to local schools and communities to help pay for more nutritious meals and P.E. classes.

Some high school students from the San Diego area say their campus could have used the money.

"We want to be active. And, then the food? All they serve is like pizza. Pizza isn't very healthy," said sophomore Berenica Garcia.

Others were glad the soda tax did not get approved because of the cost.

"Let's just say it was a dollar, a dollar plus the regular tax, plus another tax for how many ounces are in it. It's too much," freshman Darcie Vargas said.

Monning vows to keep trying to pass a soda tax bill. He says today's obese children will be tomorrow's chronically-ill adults with very high health care costs.


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