Sugar Town

Representatives Hooper and Kitzmiller,

RE: H.24

I’ve submitted comments through the Stop the Vermont Beverage Tax online form. I’d like to add some comments here to further illustrate concerns over the beverage tax.

I’m puzzled that H.24 exempts milk. Why does a beverage tax include this exemption, or any exemption? I can imagine one reason why: this bill would probably die if Vermonters realized that their milk was going to be taxed. By my calculations, tax on a gallon of milk would be $2.56.

Throughout the bill, references are made to “revenue” and similar wording that suggest this is largely about generating revenue for the state. It seems that little attention has been paid to this fact.

What’s also downplayed is what exactly will be taxed under H.24. Articles typically include photos of Coke machines or some similar symbol that suggests only sodas will be taxed.

However, it seems that I will face taxation on the juice I drink. I will also apparently be taxed for the nutritional supplement I consume.

I drink cranberry juice with added sugar. That is the only type of juice beverage that I am able to drink because of the chronic nausea I experience. The nutritional supplement with added sugar is needed to maintain weight. I drink 2 to 3 bottles of the supplement and several glasses of juice per day. Two 64 oz. bottles of juice per week = $2.56. A minimum two 8 oz. bottles of the nutritional drink per day = $2.24 per week. Sodas are one of the few treats I give myself. I drink about one can of soda per day. That’s $1.68 per week.

In total, that’s a minimum of about $6.50 per week and $26 per month in added expenses.

This does not include the beverages my husband consumes.

I told Alliance for a Healthier Vermont via Twitter that the beverage tax was exorbitant and asked why meat wasn’t being taxed.

The talking point spit in my face was this:

40 cents tax on 20 ounce #sugarydrinks isn’t much compared to more than $200 million in health care obesity costs

It felt like a spit in the face because they had no idea of my situation and were uninterested in learning anything about me. They were cruelly indifferent.

I followed their response with:

It’s already too expensive to live in Vermont.

I received no reply.

This tweet:

40 cents tax is a lot with a 9.50 an hour job, 700 in disability, and 1000 in rent. We already pay too much to live here

and this tweet:

Sweetened teas, energy drinks, and juices with added sugar are included in the tax. I wonder how many are aware of that

also received no response.

The organization’s website talks about the “slick ads” and “corporate cash” supposedly drowning out the voices of the tax’s supporters. What about my voice?

What is the true aim of Alliance for a Healthier Vermont? It doesn’t seem to be public health, at least not as a primary goal, because my concerns were brushed off.

In an opinion piece for the Times Argus, Mark Pendergrast wrote:

I enjoy an ice-cold Coke every now and then. But we’ve gone from drinking these beverages as a refreshing pause to guzzling gallons.

I don’t guzzle gallons, but I’m poor enough that my moderate consumption will be a serious hit on my finances.

Pendegrast continues:

[L]egislators need to hear from Vermonters who want to see funding come to their communities to help people eat better and be more active.

So Vermonters who do not want this tax shouldn’t be heard?

Pendegrast concludes:

It’s Big Beverage that manipulates us with ads, front groups and the assumption that we are stupid enough to let them tell Vermonters what is good for them — cheap, sugar-laden drinks.

Alliance for a Healthier Vermont is not simply trying to tell Vermonters what is good for them. They are attempting to control dietary habits by taxation.

Why stop with beverages? Perhaps Alliance for a Healthier Vermont should go door to door and peek in refrigerators to see what other unhealthy items they should lobby for taxation.

How about starting with meat?

Everyone should be aware of the health and environmental impact of eating meat and the healthier aspects of eating a meatless diet or at least eating meat in moderation. Are there any efforts to tax meat products?

Advocates for the beverage tax appear to suggest that a hefty tax on “sugary drinks” – a negative term – will significantly impact obesity.

According the NIH, however, there are many factors that impact weight.

An inactive lifestyle is one factor: “People who are inactive are more likely to gain weight because they don’t burn the calories that they take in from food and drinks.”

A campaign to encourage exercise, such as community events, might help.

There are environment factors: Lack of neighborhood sidewalks and the saturation of ads for unhealthy food products are examples. How are ads regulated in Vermont? Are there adequate sidewalks?

Genes and family history are other factors: “Overweight and obesity tend to run in families.” Further, “A child who has overweight parents who eat high-calorie foods and are inactive will likely become overweight too.”

My biological family is largely obese due to unhealthy diets that include large amounts of meat, often cooked in lard. I attempted several times to stop eating meat, but my family always bought pizza with pepperoni and most dishes were prepared with meat. They refused to accommodate my need for a healthier diet. As I got older, I had to start bringing items to family gatherings. Young children who wish to eat a healthier diet will find it difficult with an unyielding family.

Health factors, such as an underactive thyroid, negatively impact obesity. Some medicines, like antidepressants, can cause obesity. Emotional factors, smoking, aging, pregnancy, and lack of sleep can also lead to obesity.

Despite all these factors, sodas are portrayed as so sickeningly unhealthy that it’s natural public support is swayed by such messages. Sugar is now considered the single evil that causes obesity and a growing number of Vermonters now want a “sin tax” to curb the evils of drinking Coke. This campaign has led to some public shaming, including letters to the editor that are cruel and appear to show ignorance of all the beverages that will be affected by this tax.

Marc Sherman wrote in VtDigger.org:

We believe that what Vermonters eat, drink and feed their family is their choice and not the government’s to make.

My husband and I rarely make impulse buys. We usually make a list and stick to it. Sometimes, like lately, I’m so sick that I can only seem to eat things like ice cream and yogurt. People may think that’s unhealthy, but I do what I can so I won’t miss meals and so that I can maintain weight. Our household is seriously cash-strapped. This “sin tax” may be okay for affluent Vermonters, but for this household, it’s a heavy hit. The “sugar tax” is another way of sticking it to the poor.