‘Education and smaller servings will combat obesity in CA, not new taxes’

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LOS ANGELES – According to a state-wide lobby group opposing the so-called ‘soda tax’ bill introduced in the State Legislature, consumer education and smaller serving sizes are more sensible solutions to the obesity epidemic instead of adding a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugary drinks sold in California.

These sugary drinks include sodas, sweet teas, and energy and sports drinks.

CalBev, a large lobby group that represents the non-alcoholic beverage industry throughout California. It is comprised of large and small beverage producers, distributors, franchise companies and support enterprises that cater to the non-alcoholic beverage market.

Demystifying the ‘Soda Myth’

State Senator Bill Monning (D-Carme and author of SB 622, the soda tax bill) told The Los Angeles Timesthat imposing the duties on sugar-loaded drinks “will combat the obesity crisis and ensure that our children and the future generations of Californians are not doomed to a shorter life expectancy and can instead live longer, healthier lives.”

Monning is also the author of SB 1000, which requires the printing of warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages — labels that are similar to those on cigarette packs, warning consumers of the product health risks.

However, CalBev sees things differently. Much of the group’s campaign against the proposed tax revolves around demystifying the ‘myth’ that sodas are the leading causes of obesity in the US.

“We agree that obesity is a serious and complex issue,” CalBev said in a statement. “However it is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain.”

The group argued that only four percent of calories in the average American diet are derived directly from soda. They pointed to studies which revealed that foods, not beverages, are the top source of sugars in Americans’ diet today.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Americans consume about six percent of their daily calories from sugar-sweetened beverages. On the contrary, nearly twice of that amount  (11 percent) come from sweets and desserts.

In a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States. Calories in the American diet, specifically those from added sugars in soda, decreased by 39 percent since 2000.

Furthermore, USDA data shows that sugar actually plays a minor role in the growing waistlines of Americans. Additional calories from American foods mostly come from fats, oils, and starches.

In the past four decades, parallel to the increase of obesity rates, the American diet increased by an additional 445 calories per day. Of that number, 376 (84 percent) of these calories come from fats, oils, and starches; while only 34 (9 percent) come from sugars.

In fact, data from US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) shows that foods, not beverages, are the leading source of sugars in the American diet — further proving that soft drinks play a small role in the increased sugar intake of Americans.

Hurting mom and pop stores, consumers

According to Jessica Borek, a spokeswoman for CalBev, the group is opposing SB 622 and SB 1000. Borek also said that their group also opposes a separate initiative in San Francisco which seeks to impose a $0.02 per ounce tax on sugary beverages.

Borek said that adding a new tax on sodas will ultimately hurt consumers and small businesses, who would feel the worst impact of the tax on sugary drinks. Speaking about the proposed beverage tax in San Francisco, Borek said that businesses could end up passing down the added costs of the drinks to the consumers.

“If you do the math, it’s clear that the cost of sugar sweetened beverages could increase by up to 75 percent. A 2-cent per-ounce tax on the distribution of all beverages containing sugar would add $0.40 to the cost of a bottle of soda, and nearly $3 to the cost of a 12-pack,” Borek said.

“If business owners sell these products (and many rely on these high-profit-margin items in their stores), they will have to pay more to the wholesaler to carry the products and will have to pass the added costs down to customers or face a significant shrinking of profits.”

Borek said that the added tax will impact hundreds of different products, ranging from juices to “boba” milk teas, and soft drinks.

“The cost to businesses and consumers will be large, and could shrink profit margins especially for smaller mom and pop operations that already work long days, seven days a week to make ends meet,” Borek added.

And it’s not just the lobby group that opposes the soda tax. About 62 percent of the respondents in March 2012 Harris Interactive Poll said that they oppose placing a tax on the sale of beverages.

Data from other studies report that 8 out of 10 people point to too much TV and computer time as the most prominent cause of high rates of obesity, with easy access to cheap fast food and lack of desire or knowledge about how to control one’s weight as other key factors.

Borek also slammed SB 1000 (California Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act).

The bill effectively prohibits anyone in California from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in the state without a warning label. Businesses that sell fountain sweetened drinks will also be required to post warning signs about the health hazards of these products.

Businesses, large and small, will also be required to keep a two-year record of the purchase and sale of all beverages.

“It means high overhead costs that will be passed on to consumers in addition to taxpayer dollars being spent to establish a new state bureaucracy,” Borek said.

If a small business imports sugar-sweetened beverage from out of the US to serve their customer base in California, they will have to work with beverage makers or on their own, to ensure that warning labels are affixed to the products.

“This too would add to the businesses-owner’s overhead costs and another regulation for which they could face fines for non-compliance,” the CalBev representative said.

“These added costs would unfortunately likely be passed down to consumers who are already budget conscious in these economically challenging times.” Borek said.

Education and smaller servings

The CalBev representative pointed out that legislating more taxes is not the panacea to California’s obesity crisis. Borek said that proper education and smaller serving sizes are more long term solutions to California’s growing waistline.

“If we want to get serious about obesity, it starts with education – not laws and regulation,” CalBev said in a statement.

Borek pointed out that there are various programs underway that help consumers gain a better understanding about sugar-sweetened products: Voluntary National School Beverage Guidelines, the Calories Count vending program, and Clear on Calories. All of these programs aim to educate the consumers about what they’re buying at the store or vending machines.

“You can’t tax people to better health,” said California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce President Pat Fong Shusida in an op-ed piece.

“However, you can provide them with information to [help] them make informed choices that are right for them.”

(With reports from Huffington Post)

(LA Weekend March 29 -April 1, 2014 Sec A pg.6)

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