We read in yesterday’s Knoxville News Sentinel “Humphrey on the Hill” blog about a proposal that would remove a portion of Tennessee’s broad-based food tax and replace it with a discriminatory tax on certain beverages.

Surely lawmakers see shortfalls in their review of the state’s budget, but singling out one item in the grocery cart is not the solution.  Not only that, a shell game proposal like this hurts families and negatively impacts jobs in the beverage industry and related businesses.  With already double-digit unemployment rates, can hard-working families in Tennessee really afford to lose more jobs?

Using soft drinks and other beverages as a scapegoat for this proposal is bad science and doesn’t line up with what’s happening in the real world.  All sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks, flavored waters, etc.) account for only 7 percent of the calories in the average American’s diet, according to an analysis of government data by the National Cancer Institute. That means Americans get 93 percent of their calories from other foods and beverages.  And, from 2000 to 2009, sales of regular soft drinks have declined year-over- year by nearly 12 percent, according to Beverage Digest.  Yet, at the same time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that adult and childhood obesity rates continue to rise across the country.

We agree that obesity is a serious national challenge – but it will take all of us working together on a comprehensive solution.  Our member companies are doing their part.  For instance, they have reduced the total amount of beverage calories they produce for the marketplace by 21 percent from 1998 to 2008 due to innovation and production of more no- and low-calorie beverages.  And as we have blogged about before, our member companies removed full-calorie soft drinks from all schools across the country and replaced them with more lower-calorie, smaller-portion beverage options.  Under our national School Beverage Guidelines, our member companies have slashed beverage calories shipped to schools by a dramatic 88 percent since 2004.  And with Clear on Calories, America’s leading beverage companies have come together through a voluntary commitment to make the calories in their products even more clear and consumer-friendly by putting calorie information at consumers’ fingertips at every point of purchase, including containers, company-controlled vending machines and fountain machines.

Common sense tells us that taxes don’t make people healthier.  And real world data backs that up.  West Virginia and Arkansas are the only two states with an excise tax on soda, yet both states rank among the 10 states with the highest obesity rates in the country, according to the CDC.

As Raymond Thomasson, president of the Beverage Association of Tennessee, said on WKRN-TV, News Channel 2 in Nashville:

"It is offensive, arrogant and insulting to Tennessee shoppers to argue that they need the government to tell them what is essential or non-essential when it comes to their personal grocery purchases and health."

Lawmakers in Tennessee should address the budget and complex budget health issues, but adding to the burden of hard-working families that are already stretched thin is not the answer.