Vt. lawmakers eye sugar-sweetened drinks - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers eye sugar-sweetened drinks

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Wednesday, health advocates and legislators stood before camera crews, arguing that Vermont's sugary beverage consumption is making us obese. They say a tax will slim waistlines and bulk up health budgets.

"We need to start to bend the curve and deal with this problem in our state and nation," said Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol.

Last session, efforts to implement a sugary-beverage tax fizzled in committee. Its new sponsor, Rep. David Sharpe of Bristol, made a few small tweaks and will finalize a draft later this week.

"It may not be a silver bullet, but it is a first step," said Sharpe, D-Bristol.

The measure calls for a 1-cent tax per ounce on sugary beverages. Proponents say that would raise about $27 million. Funds would be split between healthy meals subsidies and covering additional costs for those transferring from state health plans into exchange plans.

The bill doesn't treat all sodas equally; at the moment, diet beverages are exempt. Other exemptions include: alcohol, milk, 100-percent fruit juice and infant formula.

John Sevigny operates DJ's Convenience Store in Montpelier. He says about 25 percent of customers buy soda in the summer months.

"They'll buy it along with their sandwich or sometimes that's all they come in for," Sevigny said.

If the law passes, customers will pay an additional 20 cents on a 20 oz. and nearly 70 cents on a two-liter.

Sevigny expects demand will drop by about 10 percent, as happened when tobacco rates went up, putting his business in jeopardy.

"We're working with such a small margin in the store," he said.

The Beverage Association of Vermont argues that sugar makes up a small percentage of the calories Americans consume each day. Spokespeople say the tax is unfair, especially for those vending along the New Hampshire border and they are circulating a petition.

Health officials counter that sugary beverages provide no health benefit and are simpler to legislate than sugary foods.

A battle may be brewing if the bill doesn't end up bottled up in committee yet again.

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