Jonathon Shenkin, the Bangor pediatric dentist and public health advocate who was behind the recent ban on smoking in the car with children is now working on a new initiative to prohibit the use of stamps to buy soda.
It has long been recognized that soda is a major source of tooth decay and obesity among Mainers and Americans and general, and some studies suggest that families who receive government aid through food stamps consume more soda than families who do not.
Shenkin told the Bangor Daily News that he treats many low-income children as young as 3 or 4 that need to have all their baby teeth extracted due to advanced decay. "People have the choice of buying soda with their own money, but taxpayer dollars should only be used for nutritional foods," says Shenkin, whose proposal also includes diet soda.
Opponents of the proposal include the Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Maine Beverage Association. Chris Hastedt, director of MEJP says that low income families should not be singled out for their consumption of soda.
"Poor kids are already so disadvantaged," she tells the Bangor Daily News, "and now we’re going to tell them they can’t serve soda at a party?"
The Maine beverage industry also opposes the proposal and calls the timing of the bill "suspicious" noting that it comes immediately after the repeal of the beverage tax that would have helped fund the Dirigo Health Program. In March of this year, over 170,000 households took part in the food stamp program, ammounting to over $16 million in purchasing power during March alone.
Current regulations prohibit the use of food stamps for cleaning supplies, paper products, alcohol or tobacco, but allow the purchase of virtually any foods, including soda, candy, chips and other items that many consider junk food.
If the Federal Waiver is approved, Maine would be the first state to ban the purchase of soda with food stamps.