New York's governor has proposed a tax on regular soft drinks in order to reduce obesity across the state.

Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi would be hit by an 18% sales tax under the proposal, announced by New York state governor David Paterson in his budget speech yesterday (16 December).

The tax would apply to "certain high caloric, low nutritional beverages like non-dietetic soft drinks and sodas", according to the budget document also released yesterday.

New York Health Department figures show that nearly one in four of young people under the age of 18 are obese.

"Significant price increases should discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from consumption and help fight obesity which results in higher risk for diabetes and heart disease," the budget report said. This could save the health service US$539m annually by 2010-11, it claimed.

Soft drinks firms unsurprisingly rejected the planned tax.

Some of the 160,000 jobs "supported" by the beverage industry in New York would be put at risk if the tax is implemented, said the American Beverage Association.

It called the proposal "a regressive tax that will hurt most those least able to pay". It added: "If we want to be serious about battling obesity, we need to comprehensively address the consumption of all foods and beverages in moderation and get more active as a society"

The soft drinks industry is already under pressure from a weakening economy across North America, with PepsiCo and Coca-Cola both reporting slowdowns on their home market.