On Wednesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax (SWEET) Act — a tax on drinks such as sodas, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks that she first announced at the National Soda Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 5.
The SWEET Act would institute an excise tax of 1 cent per teaspoon— 4.2 grams — of caloric sweetener, including sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. This would add about 9 cents to the cost of a 12-ounce can of Coke.
Exceptions to the rule include milk and plant-based milk substitutes, 100-percent fruit or vegetable juices, infant formula, dietary aids and alcoholic beverages.
Currently, there are some small sales taxes on sodas in food stores and vending machines in more than 30 states and D.C., but proposed excise taxes — those that are levied on the beverage distributor and then cause shelf prices to rise — have failed to come to fruition in several states and cities.
The next battlegrounds over sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes are San Francisco and Berkeley, CA, where the proposals have been put on the general-election ballot in November.
DeLauro and other proponents of SSB taxes argue that they can help with the national epidemics of obesity and diabetes by directing consumers away from the products and also raising money to fund prevention and treatment programs and with research and nutrition education to help reduce the human and economic costs of related health problems.
“There is a clear relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and a host of other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay,” DeLauro said in a statement. “We are at a crucial tipping point, and the SWEET Act will help correct the path we are currently on.”
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons and men no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day. A 12-ounce can of regular Coke contains about nine teaspoons of sugar.
“Overweight and obesity are responsible for an estimated $190 billion in health care costs nationally, or approximately 5 to 10 percent of all medical spending — with over 20 percent of these costs paid publicly through the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” reads the SWEET Act.
Public health and consumer groups that have also thrown their support behind the bill include the American Public Health Association, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
According to CSPI, the SSB tax would raise around $10 billion a year for diet-related disease prevention programs.
However, not everyone supports the bill. One major opponent is the American Beverage Association (ABA) — the trade association that represents America’s non-alcoholic beverage industry and has members such as the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Honest Tea Inc., Kraft Foods, ROCKSTAR Inc. and Red Bull North America Inc.
“The soda tax is an old idea that has gotten no traction in federal government, states and cities across the U.S.,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, ABA’s senior director for public affairs. “People don’t support taxes and bans on common grocery items, like soft drinks. That’s why the public policy debate in the U.S. has moved away from taxes and bans and onto real solutions.”
Gindlesperger added that ABA has voluntarily removed full-calorie soft drinks from schools nationwide, placed calorie labels on all packaging and vending machines, and supports community programs that promote balanced diets and physical activity.
ABA also argues that SSBs are not the main source of added sugars for children and teens and that a tax on sugary drinks unfairly singles out the industry.
Supporters of failed proposals to tax SSBs in New York, California, Maine, Washington and elsewhere have said that the attempts still got the public’s attention and helped to spread awareness.
“I wouldn’t put money on this Congress’s doing anything so likely to promote health, but it seems pretty clear that the time for sugary taxes has come,” Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and professor of sociology at New York University, told Food Safety News.
“Whether the sugar and soda lobbies can keep fending them off is another matter,” she said. “At some point, they may get tired of pouring millions into defeating these initiatives and even more millions into electing members of Congress who will support them.”
Nestle added that DeLauro is “courageous to give this a try and bring the matter to public attention.”© Food Safety News