City Council mulling tax on sugary drinks

FILE - A file photo of soda. (AP Photo)

May 1, 2012 2:26:30 PM PDT
There is a city proposal for a new tax on many sugary drinks. The Chicago City Council's Committee on Health and Environmental Protection is considering the request.

Sugary drinks have hit a sour note with some City Council members. Twelfth Ward Alderman George Cardenas presented a resolution earlier this year that asked the council to consider a 15 to 35 cent tax on sugar sweetened beverages as a way to curb obesity. Tuesday, the council's committee on health held a hearing on the issue.

"I know we know there's an obesity problem, but we don't know the data," said Cardenas. "I think once the data's been provided, we can make informed decisions on what to do next."

The City of Chicago already has a 3 percent tax on sugary drinks, and it would take the state legislature to increase that amount, so Tuesday's hearing was billed as a way to start a dialogue about reversing the obesity epidemic.

Both sides of the issue were represented, with health advocates saying the tax could trim health care costs and raise money for health programs. Soda supporters say the tax would hurt businesses and put a bigger burden on consumers.

"I see the increasing fact of kids overweight and out of shape and not understanding how to get out of that situation," said Otis Wilson.

"Obesity is the right issue, but I think instituting a tax on one product is not the right way to go," said Lisa Katic of the American Beverage Association.

The resolution calls for a 1-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks, a tax several aldermen would be hesitant to support. Instead, they say more education is needed about the importance of a healthy diet.

"It is so important that we get the message out in a way that people understand what are the results if you don't follow a good, safe diet," said 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez.

"I think people should be looking at themselves, at what they're eating, what they're drinking, to have a healthier lifestyle," said 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti.

At the end of the hearing, Cardenas pledged to work with the health department, business community.. and Chicago Public Schools on a tax policy that encourages healthy behavior and does not negatively impact businesses.