Letter: Beverage Industry Bullies

To the Editor:

The American Beverage Association has launched a corporate power play against Vermont consumers in the full-page ads that have been running daily since March 5 in the Valley News. These ads are underwritten by giant multinational food corporations that hope to derail Vermont’s House Bill 234, which proposes an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The beverage industry calls HB 234 a “beverage tax,” but its purpose is to discourage consumption of high-calorie, sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sweetened juices and teas, and energy drinks. The bill had 32 cosponsors when filed and is intended as an anti-obesity measure, according to Dr. Stephen M. Leffler, chief medical officer at Fletcher Allen Hospital. Google him to read how the average U.S. kid ingests 35 to 90 pounds of sugar each year just from drinking sweetened drinks.

I regard the beverage association’s campaign as a form of corporate bullying, summoning the industry’s immense financial resources to bear against the public’s well-being in the pursuit of corporate profits. These companies promote an unhealthy lifestyle that has produced a huge upsurge in adolescent and adult obesity and diabetes, which are serious health problems with tremendous costs. It seems that the bigger the corporation, the greater their focus on profits. If there is a consumer interest in such matters, the corporate interest will always buy the front seat in the loudspeaker bus. Consumer-interest groups, typically underfunded by non-tax-deductible donations, cannot compete with the corporate lobbying campaigns — tax-deductible expenses! — which guarantees that it’s never a fair contest.

Vermonters who support HB 234 should contact their representatives to express their support. The corporations will be lobbying these politicians hard, but only real people can actually vote. Vermont residents still have the immense advantage of voting, and they can also “lobby” their reps for free, with a simple phone call or email.

I agree with one line in the beverage industry’s ads: “Call your state representative” — but call in support of HB 234!

Michael Whitman