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California sugary drink tax proposal clears first hurdle

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April 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Holding 16 packets of sugar to illustrate how much is put into a 20-ounce bottle of soda, state Sen. Bill Monning convinced a committee it's time to tackle California's weight problem by approving a sugar tax.

"Sugary drinks are a leading contributor of increased caloric intake, leading to obesity and preventable chronic disease in children," said Monning, a Democrat from Carmel.

Monning proposes to add a penny tax per fluid ounce to any sweetened beverage, such as soda, teas, sports and energy drinks. Californians would pay an extra 20 cents for a regular bottle, on top of the recycling fee. Drinks under 25 calories would be exempt.

The estimated $2.6 billion collected in the first year will help fund programs that fight and prevent childhood obesity.

Now with a democratic super-majority, momentum is building in Sacramento for a sugar drink tax. The proposal now heads to the Senate Health Committee, which is headed by a doctor.

While the latest statistics show obesity rates in California children are leveling off, 38 percent are still overweight or obese.

"What's really distressing as a pediatrician is there's a disproportionate burden of obesity seen in low income youth and youth of color," said Dr. Kristine Madsen of University of San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital.

A sugar tax, though, has been a tough sell. Previous proposals failed in the state Legislature. Bay Area voters in Richmond, as well as voters in El Monte in Southern California, have rejected it.

The beverage industry acknowledges California's calorie problem and is working on developing more alternatives, but said it cannot support a tax just on their products.

"We think singling out one source of calories for people is not the best way. It's not fair. It's not appropriate to lay the burden entirely on soft drink consumption because that's not the whole story," said Bob Acherman of the California Nevada Soft Drink Association.

California has already banned artery-clogging trans fats. Opponents of the sugar tax think politicians need to stop telling people what to eat and drink.

"Government has got to understand that people have choices in this country," said state Sen. Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley).

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