CANDY CRUNCH: City cleans up candy and soda tax ordinance, still charging for sweet cravings

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AURORA | Sweet just turned a little sour.

Starting June 1, Aurora businesses selling candy and soda should have started charging sales tax on the food items in accordance with a larger state law.

Robin Peterson, manager for the city’s tax and licensing department, said although it sounds like the city may be punishing calorie consumers, that’s not exactly true.

“It’s more about making things consistent. The business owners were the ones who asked for this the most,” she said.

Under the ordinance passed May 7 by the city council, soda and candy will be taxed 3.75 percent in the city based on definitions that are clearer than the previous law.

According to Peterson, the old law was flexible in defining “ready-made” food, or packaged items that weren’t necessarily candy bars.  The old law didn’t unilaterally apply the tax across types of stores, grocery or convenience, throughout the city.

The current ordinance makes clear what soda and candy is, opposed to the old law’s definition of ready-made food.

For instance a pre-packaged sandwich or brownie may not have been taxed at a grocery store, but could have been taxed at a convenience store.

Peterson points out that items that qualify for food stamps would not be taxed.

Sugar laws are being used around the country in different cities to combat rising obesity rates.

Jim Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus, says he’s in favor of laws nationwide that are meant to curb consumers’ appetites for sugary drinks and sweets — but that’s all.

“It depends on what the law is trying to accomplish. If (the law) is meant to reduce obesity rates, then I’m all for it; if it’s meant to make more money, then not really.”

Although Aurora’s law is meant more to fall into line with the larger state law, the state law straddled the line between public health and revenue.

When it was passed in 2010, the law, co-sponsored by then-Aurora Rep. Karen Middleton, expected to generate millions in state tax revenue each year.

Hill said that was the important distinction between money making measures and public safety initiatives.

“The difference is what do you do with the money once you’ve collected it,” he said.

For Aurora, it’s likely to have no impact on city coffers, according to Peterson.

That’s OK for public health officials like Hill.

Hill said that the small 3.75 percent tax is unlikely to dissuade many from buying candy in the first place, considering the amount is too small to make much of a difference.

If you intend to tax enough to dissuade buyers, the rate must be considerably higher, he said.

“But that’s really not effective, you need to teach people not to make those unhealthy decisions in the first place,” he said.

Educating society about the effects of obesity and unhealthy diets is a successful strategy for combating obesity, he said. It doesn’t include banning large sodas, such as the ban proposed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“That doesn’t work at all, because it doesn’t affect grocery or convenience stores even, where most people buy those drinks,” he said.

 

Reach managing editor Aaron Cole at [email protected] or at 303-750-7555