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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Frances White

Aired June 11, 2003 - 19:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A New York lawmaker has a plan for fighting obesity. Slap a tax on things suspected of causing or at least contributing to obesity. Things like junk food, video games and TV commercials. Anyway, the 1 percent tax may not even make it to the floor. It faces strong opposition from those who say you cannot tax away the obesity epidemic.
So we wanted to talk with the lawmaker, Felix Ortiz, as well as Frances White, who is in San Francisco. She serves on the board of directors of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. Both of you, appreciate you joining us. Frances, I want to start off with you. Why is this so-called fat tax a bad idea in your opinion?

FRANCES WHITE, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, NATIONAL ASSOC. TO ADVANCE FAT ACCEPTANCE: You simply can't use tax to legislate behavior. It didn't work with Prohibition, it certainly doesn't work with smoking. We've had some hefty ads for teenagers against smoking here in California, and the rate has gone up. So I worry about taxes used to make changes in human behavior.

COOPER: But you know, proponents of this tax will tell you, look, the money from this tax is going to go toward obesity awareness programs, toward health program in high schools and the like. Isn't that a good thing? Doesn't that make it justified?

WHITE: You know, I got a clue for you. I know I'm fat. However, I make good food choices and I get movement in my life. And so these are the things that are important to me. If you want to tax an industry, what you should be doing is using the money to provide after school programs, because I believe the most important thing is getting movement into people's life and not having kids inside looking at video games, playing with gameboys and so forth.

And unfortunately in this day and age, we can't go outside and play as kids. Parents worry about their kids being snatched off the street.

COOPER: Do -- and just so you know, we are getting -- Assemblyman Ortiz -- apparently there is a microphone problem which is why I'm talking to you at this point, and we're going to bring in Assemblyman Ortiz in as soon as we can. Frances, there are some, and you no doubt know this, who argue that this proposed tax basically in a way would discriminate against people who are overweight. Do you think that's true?

WHITE: Well, I find it very odd that how do you apply this tax? Do you have a little card that says, OK, you are too chubby, you are going to have to pay a tax. Are only the fat people going to have to pay this tax? Or are thin people going to get a pass, because I assure you that the medical conditions that people worry about come to people of all sizes. It's -- if you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes, you are probably going to get diabetes. Now, I definitely believe that we have put too many things in fast food and just shelf stable items like transfatty acids that are contributing to our ill health, and I would support something that talked about having better labeling on packages so people know what they are eating.

COOPER: Where -- you know, proponents of this fat tax idea would say, is where is that money going to come from? Yes, that's all well and good. That's good talk. We should have better labeling. There should be greater education programs, awareness programs out there. Where is the money going to come from if it doesn't come from a tax like this? That is what the supporters of it will tell you.

WHITE: This is true, but I think we have to get down to the fact that nobody wants to pay any more taxes. We are talking about trying to have a tax cut that protects low income people, and I think if you look at who's eating the fast food, it's probably single parents who don't have the time to stand gathering food, preparing it and savoring it.

COOPER: Again, I want to apologize both to you, Frances White and also to our viewers. We were supposed to have Felix Ortiz, a New York assemblyman from Brooklyn, who is the sponsor of this fat tax, so-called fat tax idea here in New York. We have some audio problems, we are not able to get him, which is why I just conducted the interview with Frances, but, Frances, we appreciate you joining us and expressing your viewpoint. Thanks very much.

WHITE: Thank you.

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