Solon Seeks Penny per Ounce Soda Tax

     AUSTIN (CN) - A Texas state legislator introduced a bill that would put a penny per ounce tax on "certain sweetened beverages and ingredients," to fight obesity and fund health and physical education programs in state schools.
     State Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, filed House Bill 779 this week.
     It calls for a penny per ounce tax on "certain sweetened beverages and ingredients used to make certain sweetened beverages."
     Sweetened beverage powders and syrups would also be taxed for each ounce of sweetened beverage that would be produced from them, according to the 10-page bill.
     The tax would be indexed to inflation and would be paid by businesses that sell the drinks to the "ultimate consumer."
     If enacted, the bill would add a 50 percent penalty on those who fail to pay the tax, get the necessary state permit and file regular reports. It would expose business owners to a criminal, Class C misdemeanor charge if they fail to pay.
     The tax revenue would go to the newly created Children's Health Promotion Account. Eighty percent would go to the Texas Education Agency for school health programs, which may include building physical education facilities, hiring more P.E. teachers, improving the quality and nutrition of food served to students and adding more nutrition and health to curricula.
     The remaining 20 percent would go to the Department of State Health Services to fund training and technical assistance for public school health programs.
     Exempt from the tax would be no-calorie diet drinks, 100 percent vegetable or fruit juices by volume, drinks with more than 0.5 percent alcohol, sports drinks, electrolyte replacement drinks, unsweetened milk and baby formula.
     Water, coffees and teas with no-calorie additives would be exempt, as well.
     This is the second time Farias has tried to tax soda sales in Texas. He filed a similar bill in March 2011. It failed to pass.
     Farias said at the time: "The impact of a soft drink tax could help reverse the obesity trend, especially for children and teens. Farias said in 2011. "Taxation can be an effective way of reducing soft drink consumption, and, ultimately, obesity."
     Farias cited a Yale University study that suggested that for every 10 percent increase in price in tobacco products, consumption decreased by 7.8 percent.
     Noting the urgency of adopting obesity prevention efforts immediately, he also cited data from the Texas Health Institute and Methodist Healthcare Ministries that said more 15 million Texans will become obese by 2040 if action is not taken.
     "Obesity is a complex public health issue associated with many preventable causes of death, such as heart disease and stroke," Farias said. "The increase has occurred across the board for all ethnic groups and all ages. There are especially dramatic increases among young adults, for whom obesity rates increase from 10 percent to more than 20 percent in just 7 years."
     Farias, who served in the Army from 1968 to 1971, was elected to his first term in 2007. He serves on the Texas House Public Education, Rules and Resolutions, and Defense and Veterans' Affairs committees.