People call New Haven State Rep. Juan Candelaria “The Candy Man” because of his name. Now they have a second reason.
Candelaria (pictured) has proposed a bill that would make Connecticut the first state to tax candy.
His proposal, H.B. No. 5461, would impose a one-cent tax on the sale of each ounce of high-sugar soft drinks and candy. It fits into a nationwide move by health advocates and elected officials like New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro to use tax policy as one weapon against the childhood obesity epidemic. The bill has been raised by the legislature’s Joint Committee On Children.
Candelaria said he got the idea for the bill while hearing about the epidemic at a conference last year held by the National Council of Hispanic State Legislators to explore disparities in health care. Consumption of excessive amounts of sugar has been linked to obesity as well as diabetes, among other health problems.
“If you look at minority communities, black and brown, there was an increase in consumption, especially candy,” Candelaria said Tuesday. “There is an epidemic within our community. I said, ‘We need to do something about this.’”
Candelaria discovered that no other state has a law taxing candy. Four states—Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia—tax high-sugar soft drinks. They dedicate the revenue raised “to a specific purpose,” according to this state legislative report: litter programs in Virginia and Tennessee, Medicaid and “university programs” in Arkansas and West Virginia. Candelaria proposes dedicating the revenue raised by his bill to three uses: state college and university scholarships; municipal aid; and childhood obesity prevention.
Eighteen local government jurisdictions tax the sale of candy at a higher rate than that of other groceries, according to the legislative report. Twenty-three do so with soft drinks. Ten states have seen proposals to tax soft drinks or candy since 2013; none of those proposals to date has passed.
A public hearing has not been set yet for Candelaria’s bill. So far, he said, his proposal has drawn support from the American Heart Association and criticism from Pepsi-Cola.
“U.S .confectioners oppose discriminatory sales taxes that single out candy,” Susan Whiteside, a spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association, stated in an email message. “Some legislators see taxes on candy and soda as a way to decrease the prevalence of obesity; however, there’s simply no evidence to prove that these taxes work.”
The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has studied the question in depth. Looking at laws from 34 states, researchers there concluded that a sales tax needs to be large enough for consumers to notice in order to cut consumption of sugary beverages.
In this study, the center’s Roberta Friedman and Kelly Brownell concluded that the price of a product needs to rise 10 percent; then it can result in an 8 to 12.6 percent drop in consumption.
“The 10% increase in price can be achieved with a penny-per-ounce tax,” they write. (Click here to read the full study.
State Rep. Joe Markley said Tuesday that he opposes Candelaria’s bill, along with the trend of some public-health advocates of seeking to curb unhealthful habits through tax policy, on philosophical grounds.
“The world is full of unhealthy things,” Markley said. “If we start going down that road, there’s going to be no end to it. We have to respect people’s ability to make decisions for themselves, even if they’re not good decisions. Real liberalism is about allowing people to have autonomy and respecting them as human beings. It’s easy to get in this frame of mind, ‘If it’s not good for us, let’s tax it.’”
In Congress, Congresswoman DeLauro has been pushing for a passage of a Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax (SWEET) Act. It would tax beverages a penny for every teaspoon of processed sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
In a recent interview, DeLauro called sugar “the new tobacco.” As with cigarettes, tax policy can lead people consume less sugar, she argued.
“Years ago we knew tobacco was killing people and was addictive,” she said. “We made a determination as a nation that raising prices on cigarettes was going to save lives.” And it did. Now turbo-sweetened sodas and juices are leading to an epidemic of diabetes, costing the nation $90 billion a year in treatment, she said. Opponents argue that consumers can be trusted to make their own choices about whether to drink sugary drinks without being taxed. DeLauro has also pushed for more honest labeling of sugar content in soft drinks.
posted by: FHResident on February 3, 2015 2:35pm
Really, taxing candy!!! Mr.Candelaria, honestly is taxing candy going to bring more money into CT!! CT is the worst state for taxes, everything is taxed in CT. The working poor always have to pay the price to survive in this state.
posted by: Bradley on February 3, 2015 2:58pm
I like and respect Sen. Markley and know from experience that he is a particularly thoughtful legislator. But the ship sailed a long time ago on using taxes to affect consumption. The excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco are in part designed to discourage consumption. Conversely, the state exempts dozens of products from the sales tax to encourage people to buy them.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 3, 2015 3:37pm
This is silly.
Why don’t why try a positive rewards plan instead. Give every kid who isn’t fat $300 at the end of the school year, and twice that if they “make the grade”.
Then with every fat kid, offer them a XBox, bicycle, etc, for each ten pounds they lose.
We should be teaching kids that they can benefit from making good decisions, not blaming their situation on externalities.
posted by: robn on February 3, 2015 5:07pm
SCOOPERs right and I’ll add to it. Use the taxation stick for more immediately harmful consumer products like over the counter caustics and pesticides. Use carrots to prevent consumption of glacially harmful products like unhealthy foods.
posted by: Bradley on February 3, 2015 7:22pm
Robn, obesity and juvenile diabetes are “glacially harmful” to kids in the same ways that icebergs were glacially harmful to the Titanic - slow moving, largely unseen, but harmful nonetheless.
BTW, the candy tax could be used to fund the incentives that Anderson Scooper proposes.
posted by: robn on February 3, 2015 8:53pm
Ships have captains. Kids have parents. The state is neither.
posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 3, 2015 8:56pm
Yes, but are we really going to treat Coca-Cola as a vice? What about ice cream? Do we start taxing birthday cakes? Red meat? Do we start taxing red meat!?!!
it’s an incredibly slippery slope, we’re talking abut. And it also seems like a very regressive tax.
posted by: Bradley on February 4, 2015 9:27am
Anderson Scooper, you’re right that it is a slippery slope. My point is that we are nowhere near the top of the slope. For example, the federal government subsidizes the grain that goes into the red meat that you are fond of. By the way, I agree that a candy tax, like most consumption taxes, would be regressive, and that would need to be a factor in deciding to adopt the tax.
Robn, the taxes that apply specifically to alcohol and tobacco account for a substantial proportion of their total cost. There is good evidence that recent hikes in the tobacco taxes have been a significant factor in reducing smoking by kids. But since the vast majority of kids have parents to stop them from smoking and drinking, your logic would argue for eliminating these taxes.
posted by: Perspective on February 4, 2015 1:40pm
“Candelaria proposes dedicated the revenue raised by his bill to three uses: state college and university scholarships; municipal aid; and childhood obesity prevention.”
Don’t we pay a sales tax on these items already? Why isnt that money being used for scholarships?
Are we really going to earmark this money towards preventing childhood obesity? If thats the case why arent we earmarking the taxes collected from cigarettes and alcohol specifically towards smoking cessation and alcohol abuse programs? Hmmmm. smells like government trying to come up with another tactic to fill their coffers under the guise of increasing health. When does this madness end (tax McDonalds, tax grocery bills that are over a certain amount- dont want you eating too much)
posted by: localreader1 on February 4, 2015 4:35pm
Who will be deciding what constitutes a high-sugar soda or candy? How high is high? When will these overzealous career politicians (Yeah that’s you Rosa!) learn that we neither need nor do we require your assistance in our kitchens, bedrooms, or doctor’s offices? Equating smoking with the ingestion of a high-caloric beverage or food is delusional!
posted by: Noteworthy on February 5, 2015 11:18am
This is not a serious proposal by a thoughtful legislator. For starters, it takes “dedicated” money as if that means anything at all, and doesn’t spend every dime of it on childhood obesity which is the stated reason for having the tax. What does muni-aide and college scholarships have to do with a sugar tax and obesity?
There is ample history proving there is zero integrity in dedicated revenue. The wholesale tax on gas was supposed to pay for tank replacement and removal - a self insurance fund. The state with Rep. Candelari’s help, has totally abandoned that idea and left $100 million worth of claims unpaid. All that money along with a great amount of our gas tax money has been diverted to anything but tanks and transportation.
Look at the cigarette settlement - worth hundreds of millions, and yet, in all these years, a mere pittance has gone to smoking cessation programs.
This tax should be dead on arrival and this representative should spend his time on matters of consequence.