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Soda Tax Proposal Survives Near-Death, Up For Debate This Week

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We've been hearing for many months about a brewing proposal to lift the state sales tax exemption on soda and candy (including this CommonHealth opinion piece in favor of the idea, by two leading pediatricians.) But in the bubbling political ferment in the State House over cutting health costs, nothing is a done deal until it's a done deal.

So though many public-health-oriented personae have come out in favor of lifting the soda tax exemption — including the Healthy People/Healthy Economy coalition way back in late 2010 — for a while it was looking last week like the actual soda-tax amendment might not be filed and the proposal might not even come up for debate this legislative session.

That's what I hear from Andy Tarsy, head of the Alliance for Business Leadership (formerly known as the Progressive Business Leaders Network) and one of the leading forces pushing for the soda exemption to be lifted. But he says he's happy to report that Reps. Khan of Newton, Lewis of Winchester and Sciortino of Medford did move to add the soda-tax amendment to the pending health reform bill on Friday, and it could come up for debate tomorrow or Wednesday. The revenue from the soda and candy taxes would go into a fund to promote prevention and wellness.

"The good news is that prevention efforts and funding for public health are going to be at the center of the debate in the House this week," he said, "and that closing the loophole that takes soda outside of the sales tax will be on the table — along with closing the loopholes that affect tobacco products. And that debate is essential to making the commonwealth healthy."

I'm wondering whether the amendment's chances might be affected by the splashy news out of New York City last week that the mayor is proposing a ban on the sale of big-sized sodas. That proposal has sparked major controversy, as has the Massachusetts soda-tax proposal. The Herald turned a big thumbs-down on the Massachusetts plan in an editorial titled "Hands off the Snickers."

Readers, should soda and candy be sales-tax-free? I have to confess my own bias: They have so little nutritional value that in my own supermarket lexicon, I think of them as "not food..."

This program aired on June 4, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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