HONOLULU -- Hawaiian governor Neil Abercrombie has proposed establishing a tax on soda and other sugary beverages in the state.
The newly elected Democratic governor said a soda tax could generate about $50 million a year for the state, $10 million of which would be directed to programs to tackle obesity and diabetes. He did not specify a proposed tax rate.
The governor emphasized before the state Legislature on Jan. 24 in his State of the State address that lawmakers can no longer ignore that consumption of sugary drinks and other such products contribute to rising public health costs. He said the tax revenues would be used to repair the public health infrastructure and to fund prevention and education programs.
The tax would also help Hawaii plug a $844 million budget deficit, which Abercrombie said he aims to close within the next two years. Some 33 states already impose a sales tax on soda, many of which levied the fee in recent years in the name of countering obesity.
Hawaii's obesity rate is actually among the nation's lowest, ranking 47th. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaiian obesity rates stood at 22.6% from 2007 to 2009, while combined rates of obesity and overweight were 57.3%. Nationwide, 68% of Americans were considered to be overweight or obese in 2008, including 34% who were obese -- up from 15% in 1980.
Some research suggests that calorically sweetened beverages are disproportionately consumed by overweight people and that even a small amount of weight loss could be beneficial for many Americans. A recent study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service found that 10.6% of overweight adults consume more than 450 calories a day from calorically sweetened beverages -- nearly three times the average of 152 calories.
The beverage industry has argued that it is unfair to single out sugary beverages as the sole cause of obesity, and that taxing beverages is highly regressive.