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Local News

Statewide soda tax proposed to fight obesity

Will County Board member calls it ‘stupid’

Shoppers could pay more for soda and other sugary drinks under a statewide obesity tax proposed by a Chicago lawmaker.

The legislation proposed last week would place a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugary drinks sold in sealed containers, and is designed to fight obesity, according to state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor.

Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.

Will County Board Member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, argues the move is just another ploy to raise taxes and that it hardly fixes the issue of childhood obesity.

“OK, so they tax us on cigarettes. They tax us on soda. What’s the next thing they’re going to tax us on? The air we breathe?” said Balich, of Homer Glen. “I think it’s stupid.”

The proposal calls for a penny-per-ounce tax on drinks with caloric sweeteners such as sweet teas, energy drinks and soda, along with the syrups and powders within them.

Supporters say the price increase would reduce consumption, and in turn, reduce childhood obesity.

“A study in Illinois found that in just one year, the excise tax could lead to a 9.3 percent reduction of childhood obesity, could reduce 3,400 new cases of diabetes, and may save taxpayers more than $150 million in state and private healthcare spending,” according to a news release issued Wednesday from the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity.

Mark Denzler, associate vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said the tax equates to about $2.88 per 24-pack of soda – a large enough increase that would take consumers to other states to make their purchases, as they did when the state increased taxes on cigarettes.

“Two-thirds of Illinois lives within 50 miles of the border. If you’ve got a person who gets 2 or 3 cases of soda a week, they’ll drive to Indiana to save $10 bucks,” Denzler said. “And while they’re there, they’ll fill up on gas and spend their money elsewhere.”

Hunter and other supporters held a news conference to formally introduce the bill at the state capitol Wednesday.

The proposal is estimated to raise more than $600 million to put toward a wide variety of health care and preventive initiatives. Half of the revenue generated would go toward supporting Medicaid, including the restoration of oral health services that were cut last year, according to a news release.

Balich argued taxing sodas and other sugary drinks does not get to the heart of the childhood obesity problem – things such as portion control and health eating habits.

“If a kid is fat, it’s from eating McDonald’s. It’s from eating 15 McDonald’s burgers instead of one. Yet no one is talking about taxing McDonald’s or saying you can’t eat there,” Balich said. “If a kid eats three Big Macs from McDonald’s, he’s going to get fat.”

Balich said a tax isn’t going to keep people from drinking sugary drinks, citing New York City’s recent controversial citywide ban on the sale of sugared beverages larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, movie theaters, food carts and sports arenas.

“So in New York [City], you can’t have a pop that’s more than 16 ounces because you’re going to get fat?” Balich said. “But if someone orders a pop, they pay for it once, but then they turn around and they’re thirsty again, so they buy another. You end up with the same amount of pop, but there’s two sets of taxes on it.”

The bill is Senate Bill 3524.

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