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Illinois Lawmakers Consider Excise Tax On Soft Drinks

SRPINGFIELD, Ill. (WBBM/CBS) -- Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would add an excise tax to soda pop.

As WBBM Newsradio 780's Brian Seay reports, the state would use the revenue to create an "obesity fund" that would help to "diminish the human and economic costs of obesity in the State of Illinois," according to the proposed amendment.

A series of hearings is being held to determine the merits of the tax and subsequent fund. The state Senate Public Health Committee heard testimony Tuesday from both sides of the argument.

"A recent study from the University of California at Berkeley demonstrated that increased consumption of sugar sweetened beverages relates to an increase in weight gain," said Elissa Bassler with the Illinois Public Health Institute. "Between 1997 and 2007, the percentage of total calories from total beverages increased from 14.2 percent to 21 percent. Evidence consistently points to sugary beverages triggering increased obesity rates."

Bassler points to increased obesity rates among Illinois adults from 16.7 percent in1995 to 27.4 percent in 2009. But Tim Bramlet with the Illinois Beverage Association, a lobbying firm for soda pop companies, says pop is a small part of the obesity epidemic.

"Sugar sweetened beverages make up seven percent of the average American's diet," said Bramlet. "That means that Americans get 93 percent of their calories from products other than sugar sweetened soft drinks."

Bramlet says soda sales have also dipped over the last decade, by about 12 percent, while adult and child obesity rates have increased in the same period. He says eight states repealed taxes like this in the 1990s, and that no state has enacted one since 1992.

State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago) is sponsoring the bill SB396. Delgado says he'd like to hear more from both sides before the bill gets a vote in the Public Health Committee.

The City of Chicago already imposes a tax on soft drinks. Retailers are charged a 3 percent tax on their gross receipts for soft drink sales, which they may pass onto consumers.

Taxes on soft drinks have been a hot-button issue nationwide for years. A widely-seen ad mounted by the American Beverage Association, which has been running for more than a year, shows complains that by taxing soda and other beverages, government is "trying to control what we eat and drink," and, "the government just getting too involved in our personal lives."

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