Bill Would Tax Soda & Energy Drinks to Prevent Childhood Obesity

If you're a soda drinker, a bill in the Nebraska legislature could make you pay more for the sugary drink you enjoy.

It's a Lincoln senator's effort to fight and prevent childhood obesity in Nebraska.

For the last three years, Senator Bill Avery debated whether he should introduce a bill aimed at sugary drinks and preventing childhood obesity.

Now he's taking action hoping to protect the future of Nebraska.

Right now soda is considered a food.

But Senator Avery wants change that.

He tells 10/11, "They shouldn't be, they have no nutritional value."

John Lindsay is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Beverage Association. He says, "It's creating a loophole in our definition of food and drink, by saying we don't like this particular item, so we're going to say it's not a food."

By taking sugary drinks out of the food category, Senator Avery's bill would remove the tax exemption on non-alcoholic sugary beverages, like soda and energy drinks. In turn the money generated from the tax would be used to fight childhood obesity.

Senator Avery says, "We know that sugar is a big factor in the increase in childhood obesity. It's a growing problem that is associated with diabetes and heart disease."

Lindsay doesn't buy it.

Lindsay, "They would says it's about childhood obesity, but they're late to the game. The beverage companies have voluntary decreased calories in schools by 88% in the last four years."

He says beverage companies are buying lawmakers pointing the finger at one food or drink and blaming it on childhood obesity.

Under the bill, schools would get the bulk of the $11.3 million.

Sen. Avery says, "It would be administered through the department of education. The schools they would use for education programs to help kids understand the value of activity, physical fitness and eating right."

The money would be divided up three ways. Ninety percent of the money would go to the Department of Education to be distributed to schools. Ten percent would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to educate young children about obesity and the importance of eating right and exercising. And $100,000 would be used to establish and maintain a statewide database to monitor student obesity and fitness.

The impact on your wallet, on average seven cents for every dollar you spend on sugary drinks.

But Lindsay says regulating the beverages creates a slippery slope.

"When the government decides what food, and drink you can consume and they use tax policy to penalize your consuming foods they don't like, it could be chocolate next, it could be beef."

The bill would affect the tax exemption for drinks like milk, soy and rice milk, as well as 100% vegetable or fruit juice.

Senator Avery says he's already heard plenty of unhappy phone calls from the Grocer's Association, the Restaurant Association and the Liquor Retailers Association.

Senator Avery's bill will now head to committee.

There, senators will debate and decide whether to advance it to the full legislature.