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Whether you call it soda, pop or a soft drink, Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery would like to tax it.

Avery introduced a bill (LB753) Wednesday that would no longer allow sugary soft drinks to be classified as food, and thus take away their sales tax exemption. They would join alcoholic beverages, dietary supplements and tobacco as nonfood products.

"It's an exemption that has contributed to some unintended consequences," he said.

Avery said he had resisted carrying the bill in the past because of potential charges that it was a tax increase. But the more data he saw on the relationship between sugary beverages and childhood obesity, and how they affect child and adult health, the more convinced he became that something needed to be done.

The money raised by the change in classification -- about $11 million -- would be used for programs aimed at preventing obesity.

Milk and milk substitutes and 100 percent fruit juices would continue to be exempt from the tax, he said. But beverages with artificial sweeteners would be taxed.

Avery also will bring back a bill that would make restaurants' children's meals that are accompanied by incentives, such as toys, meet certain nutritional standards. That bill (LB126) was killed last session in the Agriculture Committee.

"We're bringing it back to let the Agriculture Committee actually discuss it this time," Avery said. "Last time, they just killed it without discussion."

Studies show taxation on certain products, tobacco for example, affects people's purchasing behavior.

He knows the bill won't cure the problem, he said.

"But it's at least a step in the right direction," he said. "There is no logical reason to define soft drinks as food."

The Nebraska Beverage Association opposes the bill, said John Lindsay, executive director.

It's a tax increase brought about to fund a new program someone wants to see built into government, no matter how it's presented, Lindsay said.

The industry has voluntarily adopted school beverage guidelines that reduce portions and calories in soft drinks, he said. Those guidelines have reduced calories in soft drinks in schools by 88 percent.

Soft drink sales have been declining in the past decade, and yet obesity is increasing, he said.

There is no study that says a specific food causes obesity, he said. Rather, studies show that strategies to decrease or prevent childhood obesity should be built around kids getting more physical activity.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

 

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