A threat to public health?

Taxes on sugary drinks gain a bit of traction

The idea of a soda tax isn’t going away, despite the efforts of the American Beverage Association — heavily supported by market leaders Coca-Cola and Pepsi — to quash it.

Vermont lifted its sales tax exemption on sugary drinks on July 1, effectively adding a 6 percent levy aimed partly at helping the state close a $113 million gap between revenue and spending.

The Illinois legislature also tackled a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks in its 2015 legislative session as it sought to balance an about $3 billion revenue shortfall, according to new reports.

Last November, Berkeley, Calif., residents passed the nation’s first voter-approved soda tax. Supporters said they wanted to discourage consumption of sugary drinks, which health advocates link to Americans’ expanding waistline and diabetes. But budget issues also play into the debate.

Overall soft drink sales continue to decline compared to their late 1990s peak as Americans switch to water, teas and other beverages. A study by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and the University of North Carolina found sugary drink sales in Mexico last year fell 6 percent after that nation started taxing sugary drinks.

The American Beverage Association, which represents the industry with funding from Coke and rival Pepsi, calls the taxes regressive and has backed campaigns opposing the measures. Tracey Halliday, an ABA spokeswoman, said most efforts to tax sugary drinks have failed because “People don’t support taxes on common grocery items like soft drinks. That’s why the public policy debate has moved on from taxes to real solutions.”

Jim O’Hara, director of Health Promotion Policy for health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the impact of sugary drinks is changing public perception.

“I think the tide has turned and will continue to turn,” he said.

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