Assemblymember Felix Ortiz’s proposed sugar tax hits a sour note with residents

Assemblymember Felix Ortiz is poised to introduce a bill that is hitting a sour note with Sunset Park residents.

The legislation would put a surcharge of one penny per ounce on sugary drinks, except those that contain fewer than 25 calories. Ortiz said the funds raised by the fee will go to support childhood nutrition programs, physical education and health awareness in schools.

But residents are saying otherwise.

“It’s stupid. It’s an invasion of privacy, which is one of the worst elements of big government,” said Isabelle Verdini, who is also a member of the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee. “To tell people how to eat and drink is just ridiculous. It’s too authoritarian.”

Her neighbor, Sheila Pisciotta, said that while she understands that Ortiz’s intentions are good, it’s not the way to solve the city’s obesity problem.

“I know where he is coming from. I am pre-diabetic and sugary drinks are bad for you,” she said. “But people should be able to buy what they want to buy.”

According to Ortiz, who also helped pass legislation that requires fast food and restaurant chains to provide the number of calories in each dish, Americans are consuming 200 to 300 more calories each day compared to 30 years ago.

Ortiz said that sugary drinks make up for 10 to 15 percent of total daily calories, for both children and adults, while providing no nutritional value.  In addition, in New York City, almost 40 percent of children who attend public schools and 57 percent of adults are either overweight or obese, said the assemblymember.

“Over the past 30 years, consumption of sugary beverages in United States has more than doubled,” Ortiz said. “This trend will increase cases of diabetes and catastrophic diseases; as we create a healthy nutritional environment for our children, we secure their health and future.”

Ortiz’s attempt to limit sugar consumption comes just three years after he proposed a bill to eliminate all salt in city restaurant kitchens, suggesting instead that salt be left on tables for diners to add as they wish. The bill did not go anywhere as salt is a natural mineral present in foods and is necessary to preserve ingredients.

Reporting contributed by Heather J. Chin.

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