Sugar sweetened beverage tax garners more supporters

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Advocates of a tax on soda and other sugary beverages believe they can make Vermont the first state in the nation to place an excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

The proposal would place a 2-cent per ounce excise tax on distributors of sugar sweetened beverages. The cost would be passed on to consumers.

Anthony Iarrapino, the campaign director for the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont, said at a press conference on Tuesday that this year his organization is in the sweet spot because Gov. Peter Shumlin has opened the door for a broader legislative discussion about new taxes to support health care reform.

The $34 million in revenue could be used to soften the employer funded payroll tax proposal the governor introduced last week, Iarrapino says, or for other initiatives that would bring down health care costs associated with obesity.

Two years ago, a similar proposal was drafted in legislation, but didn't make it out of committee. This time, there are already two bills in the works — one that would create the excise tax on sugary beverages and another that would use the $34 million in new revenues to subsidize premiums for middle income Vermonters.

The Alliance for a Healthier Vermont's membership is now a who's who of 30 medical and low income advocacy groups, including five local hospitals, the Vermont State Dental Society, the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the Vermont Medical Society and the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council.

Members of the group took turns at the press conference to outline scientific findings that link sugary drink consumption to obesity (especially among children), heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Sugary drinks include soda, sports drinks, sweetened waters and teas, energy drinks and fruit drinks.

The Vermont Grocers and Retailers Association and the American Beverage Association adamantly oppose the 2-cent per ounce excise tax, and several state senators, including Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell issued statements critical of the proposal.


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