Farmington — Buying chips and a soda on the Navajo Nation could get more expensive if a proposal to increase the sales tax on junk food is enacted.

As the number of Navajos diagnosed with diabetes continues to rise, one grassroots organization thinks combating the issue could be done by taxing junk food.

After two years of development, the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance is advocating passage of two pieces of legislation that would enact a sales tax on junk food items purchased on the reservation and eliminate the sales tax on fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.

Deborah Cayedito, a DCAA member, said the group made the proposals because they are concerned with the diabetes epidemic.

According to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, there are approximately 25,000 Navajos who are diabetic and approximately 75,000 who are pre-diabetic.

Those numbers, along with the potential for it to increase, has resulted in the bills that currently are making their way through the legislative process.

The first piece of legislation seeks to amend the taxation section of the Navajo Nation Code to enact the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2013 by imposing an additional 2 percent sales tax on junk food purchased on tribal lands.

According to the legislation, junk food is defined as sweetened beverages and prepackaged and non-packaged snacks low in nutrients and high in salt, fat and sugar.

The legislation lists these snacks as chips, candy, cookies and pastries.

Sweetened beverages are described as carbonated or non-carbonated that contain five grams or more of added sugar or other sweetener including artificial.

Revenue generated from the junk food sales tax would be used to fund the development of community wellness projects such as parks, fitness centers, basketball courts, trails, community gardens, picnic grounds and health education classes.

The Quick Stop is seen on March 15, 2013, in Shiprock.
The Quick Stop is seen on March 15, 2013, in Shiprock. (Daily Times File Photo)

But a recent tax hike has turned some against the plan.

On Jan. 1, the sales tax rate on the Navajo Nation increased from 4 percent to 5 percent.

Opponents have stated that adding another tax would burden consumers and result in individuals purchasing junk food off the reservation.

The second bill proposes to eliminate the 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, water, nuts, seeds and nut butters.

Delegate Danny Simpson is sponsoring both bills, which could be considered Thursday by the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee.

Simpson sponsored similar legislation earlier in the year but it was not passed by the Council during the July summer session.

Like the one before, these bills will need to be considered by the council.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. nsmith@daily-times.com Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.