Illinois Floats Excise Tax for 'High-Sugar Beverages'

Meanwhile, federal committee recommends nationwide soda tax

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

Illinois State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D) and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D)

Illinois State and Rep. Robyn Gabel (left) and State Sen. Mattie Hunter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois' recently introduced Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) Act would add a 1-cent-per-ounce excise tax on "high-sugar beverages" in its effort to provide tools and resources for families in the state to live healthier lives.

Introduced Thursday by State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D) and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D), the HEAL Act (SB 1584 and HB 2667), if enacted, is expected to generate more than $600 million a year for investment in communities across the state through the tax on sugary-drink distributors.

"This is an important piece of legislation for the health of Illinois communities, especially those most devastated by sky-high rates of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease," Hunter said. "African Americans have the highest heart-disease mortality rates in the state, and Latinos are twice as likely to develop diabetes as Caucasian Americans. Across Illinois, low-income communities of all types face great barriers to being healthy. The HEAL Act provides communities with tools that help children and families live healthier lives by increasing access to more affordable fruits and vegetables, creating safe and accessible opportunities for physical activity and implementing other evidence-based measures to promote health."

The HEAL Act would place the penny-per-ounce excise tax on beverages with more than 5 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. The revenue raised would be earmarks to invest in expanded opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity. This includes more nutrition and physical education in schools, more affordable and accessible foods at farmers markets, and more bike lanes and sidewalks for residents to be active.

"This bill also helps expand prevention services in Medicaid," Gabel said. "Obesity-related health care costs Illinois taxpayers more than $6 billion a year. This legislation will help prevent those costly chronic conditions and reduce the economic drag they cause, while also improving the quality of life for Illinois families."

The bill is supported by more than 25 organizations, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention and the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity.

Not surprisingly, the Illinois Beverage Association opposes the proposed tax.

“Illinois families have the right to make their own choices and simply do not support taxes on their common grocery items,” said executive director Jim Soreng. “Our companies proudly offer families a wide variety of product offerings and portion sizes. In addition, we provide only low-calorie options in schools, and place calorie counts on all the front of our packages.”

Soreng proposed working with legislators to reach a more acceptable solution.

“If we want to get serious about obesity, it starts with education, not laws and regulation” he said. “With approximately 100,000 Illinoisans directly and indirectly employed by the beverage industry, we play an essential role in our state’s economy and its future. We want to work together to find real solutions to address the nation’s health problems while ensuring that important Illinois jobs and the industries that provide them are not hurt by punitive taxes.”

Federal Level

Meanwhile, scientists helping to revamp dietary guidelines as United States concluded that Americans should pay taxes on sugary sodas and snacks as a way to cut down on sweets.

The recommendation came Thursday from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, according to a Bloomberg report.

“What we’re calling for in the report in terms of innovation and bold new action in health care, in public health, at the community level, is what it’s going to take to try and make a dent on the epidemic of obesity,” committee chairwoman Barbara Millen of Millennium Prevention in Westwood, Mass., told Bloomberg.

“Higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption,” according to the advisory panel. “Using the revenues from the higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes for nutrition health promotion efforts or to subsidize fruits and vegetables could have public health benefits.”

The Department of Health and Human Service, which will lead the writing of the guidelines, and the USDA jointly appointed the committee. It will act on the recommendations after considering public comment for 45 days. Final guidelines are to be released by the end of this year.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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