The Vermont Legislature is expected to once again raise the sticky subject of a possible soda tax next year. Wednesday night, the University of Vermont hosted a panel discussion on the subject.
Researchers who spoke at UVM compare adding a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to the fight previous generations held over taxing tobacco. But, opponents say the comparison is unfair, and won't do much to slow consumption.
Rachel Johnson is the Bickford Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Medicine at UVM. "We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice," she said.
Johnson says public health and public coffers would both see big boosts if the state taxed sugar-sweetened beverages like tobacco and alcohol. She says new research demonstrates conclusively that reducing the intake of soda, sports drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages dramatically reduces the chances of a child becoming overweight.
Those who took part in the discussion say taxing the products would generate revenue for the state - that could be spent on children's health - and cause a drop in consumption. But why not tax all sugar?
"People don't compensate as much for the calories they consume in a liquid form as they do in from the calories in a food in a solid form," Johnson explained.
Long-time general store operator and State Senator Dick Mazza doesn't think sales would dip. "Next year it will be ice cream and then it'll be something else," he said, "and if you want to control peoples lives with taxes, try it."
Mazza says education is the way to change behavior. He credits learning with smoking rate drops, and says kids are more aware now than ever that sugar sweetened drinks are not the healthy option.
Mazza says he expects the tax issue to stir a lot of healthy debate this legislative session. "That's going to be an interesting discussion on both sides," he said.
Most of those WCAX spoke with on Burlington streets said they support a new tax. "I think people should be aware of what they're putting into their bodies - and they tax cigarettes - so why not tax soda," said Emily Frazier of South Burlington.
Champlain Student Nathan Brzozowski says he understands why others may support a tax, "but, I think people are also perfectly capable of making their own choices."
The sugar-sweetened beverage tax proposal has come up in previous sessions of the Vermont legislature. However, this year, both panelists and Senator Mazza say they think the issue will take on a more prominent role.
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