Connecticut proposes tax on soft drinks

Derek Torrellas – Photo Editor 

A bill working its way through the Connecticut General Assembly targets consumer choices – soft drinks, specifically.

The soda tax, as it is informally called, is an attempt to curb the rising rate of childhood obesity. The percentage of obese adolescents aged 12–19 years rose from five percent in 1980 to almost 21 percent in 2012, according to data from the CDC.

There would be a tax of one cent per ounce to non-alcoholic carbonated beverages containing “any added caloric sweetener,” if the bill passes. Currently in Connecticut, soft drinks and candy are not exempt from state sales tax like other groceries. Four states – Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia – already have a tax on soda. The difference to Connecticut’s proposed bill is that those states tax the manufacturers and distributors, not the consumer directly.

“I’ll probably buy soda less than I already do,” said Lindsey Moriow, junior public health major, responding to the soda tax idea.

But Moriow and her two companions, Alex Savo and Taylor Perry, also said in unison that people in general would still purchase soda regardless of any tax on it.

“If I’m in the mood for a soda, I’ll buy a soda,” said Perry, a sophomore liberal arts major. “Just because it’s 12 cents more that’s not even going to faze me, because usually when I buy soda I don’t even look at the price.”

House Bill 5461, An Act Imposing a Tax on Sugary Soft Drinks, was proposed in January by State Representative Juan Candeloria. The New Haven legislator had also included a tax on candy in the original version of the bill, but this was not present in the bill that passed the Committee on Children with a vote of seven to six in favor, March 5.

Revenue collected from a soda tax would benefit the Governor’s Scholarship Program, and public education and outreach regarding obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Mary Kate Lowndes, of the state Commission on Children, said during the committee that a 15-20 percent drop in consumption would result from the tax. This would follow the example of taxing cigarettes, she said.

According to State Representative Pam Staneski, of Milford and Orange, a soda tax doesn’t address the root cause of childhood obesity.

“I agree that sugar is a big part of the obesity problem, but I do not think that taxing it will fix the problem,” Staneski said in a phone interview.

Children need more exercise and more education, she said, because kids would buy sugary juices or Gatorade, instead. She added that she would like to work with the bill’s supporters on alternative healthy policies.

“If you advertise what’s actually in it, it’s horrible for you,” said Moriow. “I’ll drink it on occasion, but if you cut soda completely out of your diet, I’ve read that it’s like 10 pounds you’ve saved yourself a year.”

Calorie counts for a 12 oz. can range from 140 in regular Coke to 190 in Sunkist orange soda. If someone drinks a can a day, replacing the soda with water translates into 51,000 calories saved – or about 15 pounds – according to an online About Health article by Malia Frey, who is billed as a weight loss expert.

There is no clarification within the act regarding diet sodas, which typically use the artificial sweetener aspartame. And while those drinks are labelled as “zero calorie,” aspartame still has a negligible amount of calories, so they could fall under the tax.

The bill still has to be passed by both the state’s house of representatives and senate, then signed by the governor, before it becomes a law.

Photo Credit: Vox Efx


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