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Beverage Association, American Heart Association talk sugary beverage tax


The Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — One organization supports the sugary drink tax because of potential health benefits, and the other condemns the proposed tax as discriminatory and inefficient –the West Virginia Beverage Association and the American Heart Association of West Virginia have very different opinions about the sugary beverage taxes proposed in Charleston.

The West Virginia Beverage Association is in favor of eliminating the soft drink tax; the association has also said it is directly against increasing those taxes as well. The West Virginia Beverage Association website says the soft drink industry contributes approximately $360 million to West Virginia’s economy in a year. The industry also creates about 12,222 total jobs in the state, according to the website.

Will Swan, general council for the West Virginia Beverage Association, said the beverage industry provides good paying, quality jobs in West Virginia that are at risk if taxes continue to discriminate against them.

For the Eastern Panhandle in particular, Swan said the beverage tax may drive beverage business across state lines to shop for the same products for cheaper — which would have a negative impact on state economy, in his opinion.

Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal is titled as a health tax to promote better health in the state, but Swan said the proposed tax would not impact health issues like Justice is advertising.

“Medical professionals will tell you obesity and health issues are not caused by any one item in a grocery cart. Obesity stems from activity level, diet and genetics, not just sugary beverages,” Swan said.

Christine Compton, government relations director for the American Heart Association of West Virginia, feels differently. Compton believes an increase in taxes on sugary beverages will help curb West Virginian’s intake, which will help reduce the risk of other health issues for individuals in the state.

For the American Heart Association, Justice’s new proposal for a two-cent per container soda tax isn’t enough. According to a press release, the association would rather see a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.

The press release cited data from a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study, which says a penny-per-ounce tax would generate $89 million in annual revenue for West Virginia

“In addition, there would be 17,700 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes in the state. Over 10 years, this would lead to a savings of $81.3 million in health care costs,” the press release states.

Compton said singling out drinks with high sugar contents and reducing individual intake throughout the state could help reduce diabetes and heart issues.

“We are purely interested in the health of West Virginians,” Compton said. “West Virginia is the most diseased state in America. Cancer is the number one killer in the state because of high smoking rates. We’re the second most obese state and we’re fourth for diabetes.”

Compton said studies have shown tobacco use goes down approximately 12 percent when prices increase by 10 percent, and she believes sugary beverage intake will see similar results.

“We see the penny-per-ounce tax as an investment in the future of our state,” Compton said. “It’s a long-term investment in a healthier workforce and a stronger economy. The benefits of a sugary drink tax include immediate revenue for our state as well as a long-term benefit, as every year we’ll see continued savings in our health care costs across the state – upwards of more than $8 million a year.”

However, Swan said the proposed tax increase is a discriminatory measure against the beverage industry that will put West Virginia among a minority of states with sugary beverages taxes.

“Government excise does not belong in the cart,” Swan said.

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