DC Council Mulls Tax on Drinks With Natural Sweeteners

D.C. lawmakers are considering a tax on sugary drinks containing "natural common sweeteners." 

The bill, proposed Monday by Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau, would levy a 1.5 cent-per-ounce excise tax on sweet drinks such as Gatorade, sweetened iced coffee and orange juice with added sugar, the Washington Post reports. It wouldn't apply to alcohol, milk, all-natural juices or drinks with artificial sweeteners, such as diet soda. The Post notes this would be one of the highest taxes on sugary drinks in the nation. 

“I am sick of children dying early and of people getting diabetes and suffering from the complications and I’m really sick of the negative health outcomes that have come with the mass consumption of sugary drinks here in the District of Columbia,” Nadeau said.

The tax would mean a 2-liter bottle of soda that costs $2 would cost $3.

The city recently passed passed a 2% additional sales tax on soft drinks, increasing it from 6% to 8%. This bill would replace that.

Researchers say higher sales taxes don't affect consumer decisions as the extra cost is added at the register, after a consumer has already picked their product. An excise cost would be imposed on distributors, who would then raise sticker prices.

Nine of the 13 council members support Nadeau's bill.

Councilman Robert White is skeptical.

"It struck me as a bit paternalistic," he said.

"But I also see it as being a regressive tax," he said.

"I think that’s a bunch of nonsense because the fact of the matter is people are being hurt now by the fact that they are inundated and sort of encouraged at all levels to have these sugary drinks,” Councilwoman Mary Cheh said.

The D.C. Beverage Association opposes the tax, calling it “a massive tax on working families, small business owners and their employees.”

“Another tax on everyday beverages like juices, teas, and sports drinks is not needed,” D.C. Beverage Association Executive Vice President Ellen Valentino said.

The D.C. Council is expected to hold public hearings on the sugary drink tax in the next few months.

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