CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With just one day left in this year’s legislative session, the American Heart Association of West Virginia is hoping a sugary drink tax will be included in the state budget.
Governor Jim Justice has proposed a 2 cent per bottle or can soda tax to help fill the state’s $500 million budget deficit, but the AHA said that’s not enough to help West Virginia. Instead, the AHA supports a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.
“A one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary items translates into about $89 million in revenue plus $8 million in health cost savings,” said Christine Compton, government relations director for AHA WV.
Justice’s proposed tax would generate $30 million in revenue annually.
Supporters say the state has health problems and that reducing sugar is a way to reduce diabetes and heart disease. Critics in the beverage industry say West Virginians already pay a penny per 16.9 fluid ounce tax on soft drinks and that the government should stay out of people’s grocery carts.
Compton called it “a choice tax.”
“It’s a choice item. It’s not something we have to have as part of our daily diet. It’s very similar to the concept of tobacco tax which did become part of the budget negotiations last year,” she said.
Under the proposal, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and drinks with a significant amount of sugar would be taxed.
The tax will also help in the workplace, Compton said.
“One of the things that legislators and our governor always talk about is jobs, jobs, jobs and that’s very important to our economy, but we have to have a healthy workforce. We have one of the most unhealthy populations in the country and we have to have healthy people to fill those jobs,” she said.
West Virginia ranks 47th in overall health in the United States and ranks in the top 4 states with the most sugary drink consumption, diabetes and cardiovascular disease cases, according to the 2016 America Health Rankings Report from the United Health Foundation.
State residents would consume 98 fewer servings of sugary drinks per person, per year if West Virginia had a one-cent-per-ounce tax, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In addition, there would be 17,700 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes in the state.
“We know that from typical economic models when the consumer feels at least a 10 percent price increase, their consumption will drop basically by 12 percent, so it’s a way to discourage consumption of those unhealthy items,” Compton said.
Compton noted that the penny-per-ounce tax would not be applied to many products including bottled waters, juices and milk products while the Justice’s proposal would tax every product on the shelves.