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Survey: State divided over school soda limits

More Floridians support than oppose a move that would let students guzzle soda at school all day, but an overwhelming majority feels that an equal amount of fruit juices should also be made available, according to a Florida Department of Citrus survey released Monday.

The telephone poll of 800 registered voters shows that 48 percent of those surveyed supported allowing students access to sodas at school all day, while 38 percent were opposed. Thirteen percent had no opinion and 1 percent refused to answer the question.

However, almost 80 percent of those surveyed supported equal shelf space in schools for juices, according to the poll.

The poll by Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies was conducted July 31 and Aug. 1. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.

Florida now bars the sale of sodas and other beverages from vending machines at schools until at least one hour after the last lunch period. High schools can, however, apply for a waiver from the rule if students don't stop buying lunches in order to buy soda.

The Florida Cabinet is to vote Thursday on whether to relax the soda restriction.

The Department of Citrus is lobbying to change the rule so that juices will be offered at schools in equal amounts as soda.

"This could set a precedent, which is why we're interested in this debate," said Linda Hawbaker, school marketing director for the Department of Citrus. "Of course, it's in our back yard."

Even if the Florida Cabinet agrees to the change, it still will have to be approved by each school board, said Michele Springer, Coca-Cola's regional director for public affairs.

"I think we're happy with the proposed change," she said. "Sugar doesn't cause heart disease or cancer."