California assemblyman proposes soda tax

A soda is poured into a cup in the Eyewitness News break room.

In an attempt to combat high rates of obesity and diabetes in California, a lawmaker from Santa Monica announced Wednesday he is introducing bill that would tax sugary drinks.

It's the seventh bill in the last six years designed to tax or add warning labels to sodas and other beverages with high sugar content. But, so far, none of them have become law.

"Sugary beverages have no nutritional value," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who is sponsoring the bill. If passed, it would impose a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks.

"Liquid sugar, when it enters the body, goes straight to the pancreas and then it's converted to fat," he warned at a press conference in Sacramento.

It's biology that is also to blame for our collective desire to drink soda in the first place.

Dr. Carlos Alvarez, an internal medicine specialist, said it is natural "if you're a little hungry and your sugar is low, you're going to have a craving for (sugar.)"

Because of that, he said, it's easy to go overboard. As a physician, he does not recommend eliminating soda's altogether, but agrees, sugar intake should be reduced, especially in places like Kern County.

"Unfortunately Kern County falls into a group of communities in the U.S. [] that are infested with patients that have diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol."

The bill is estimated to generate $3 billion-a-year, which lawmakers say would go directly to fund prevention and treatment programs to further reduce consumption.

"You know for us it's about investing in the community, providing nutrition education awareness and making those healthier choices available," said Xavier Morales, the executive Director of Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

But there are many critics too. Tom Pavich, a member of the Bakersfield Tea Party, said he agrees sugar can have negative health impacts, but argues a tax is the wrong way to pay for prevention programs.

"There is plenty money in the budget for them to find money to do those things if they choose those things are right," he said.

More importantly he added, "people should have the freedom to choose what they do."

As Alvarez argues, however, those choices are paid for by taxpayers eventually.

"As a state or the country, we end up paying for the medical care for all the individuals that increase their weight," he said.

While he supports the tax, he has a simpler solution.

"We need to get up and start walking around at least 30 minutes a day, and we will take care of a lot of those problems," the doctor said.

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