VIEWPOINT: Government should stay out of grocery carts

Last year, the state Legislature formed a Childhood Obesity Task Force that recently issued its recommendations to address obesity.

One of the recommendations is to single out most sweetened beverages for a special tax. I view this as a tax grab designed to collect revenue for the state coffers and ultimately impact our grocery bills. Government should focus on the more effective solution of encouraging healthy eating and an active lifestyle.

You can count on beverage taxes to hurt Maui businesses, workers and an industry that serves as an important part of our economy. The state’s beverage industry provides more than 1,200 jobs across the islands, including here on Maui. Workers in restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other businesses that depend, in part, on beverages sales for their livelihood will be affected. Taxing beverages may put some of these local jobs at risk.

More importantly, placing a punitive tax on a grocery item to try to change behavior sets a dangerous precedent. We are not just talking about soda. Legislation has been proposed in the state Legislature targeting juice drinks, sports drinks, teas and nearly all sweetened beverages. That kind of thinking puts the government’s hand directly into your grocery cart to try to change your shopping and consumption behavior.

It is consumer and lifestyle education, not punitive legislation, that will encourage people to make healthy choices. The fact is it’s not the government’s job to grocery shop for your family. Good health starts with individual responsibility.

Sam Kass, a senior policy adviser on healthy foods initiatives at the White House, works with first lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move” initiative to reverse childhood obesity within a generation. In a speech earlier this year, Kass explained, “The solutions to these challenges are deeper than a piece of legislation or policy position. Indeed, we will only be successful when we foster a new norm, where living an active lifestyle and eating healthy are core values.”

I encourage readers to contact Maui state legislators to express opposition to discriminatory taxes on beverages and instead support comprehensive physical activity and nutrition programs. In the meantime, let’s keep the government out of our grocery carts.

* Kim A. Robello is the merchandising manager for Minit Stop Stores.