CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The American Heart Association is urging state lawmakers to pass a sugary drink tax bill to help fund the rising health insurance costs.

Christine Compton, government relations director for AHA WV, said the bill would provide nearly $80 million annually to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

“Certainly with everything that’s going on with that organization, with the health care costs and the struggle that public employees are being faced with, with a loss of benefits and increased costs — it certainly makes sense,” Compton told MetroNews.

The bill, HB 4344, would increase the tax to two cents per ounce on certain sodas.

Compton said the legislation is really a two-pronged approach.

“Not only from the economic stand point, but in the long term health cost savings,” she said.

West Virginia has some of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the nation, according to the AHA. Compton said it’s important to improve wellness in the state by decreasing the amount of sugar consumption.

“Our motivation primarily comes from wanting to decrease sugar in the American diet, specifically in West Virginians’ diets because we know that about 47 percent of excess sugars come from the consumption of empty calories and sugary drinks,” she said.

Compton stressed the tax only applies to those who buy soda or other sugary drinks.

“Taxes obviously are not a popular topic, but this is certainly one of those things that people can choose to pay or not. Sugary drinks are not a necessity,” she said.

Funds will also go towards the West Virginia University School of Health, according to the bill.

The bill is currently pending in the House Health and Human Resources Committee.

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