The newly elected Democratic governor said a soda tax in the state could generate about $50m a year, $10m of which would be directed to programs to tackle obesity and diabetes. Abercrombie did not specify the level at which such a tax would be implemented.
“[I] will propose a fee on soda and similar drinks,” he said before the state Legislature on Monday. “We can no longer ignore the fact that consumption of these and other such products contribute to rising public health costs. Revenues from these fees will be used to repair the public health infrastructure and also to fund prevention and education programs.”
The concept of taxing sugary beverages has been proposed on a state level throughout the United States as a means of plugging state budget deficits, as well as a possible way to fight obesity, and 33 states already impose a sales tax on soda. Hawaii has a budget deficit of $844m and Abercrombie said his aim is to close it within the next two years.
Obesity rates in Hawaii are actually among the nation’s lowest, ranking 47th in the US. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaiian obesity rates stood at 22.6 percent from 2007-2009, while combined rates of obesity and overweight were 57.3 percent during the same period. Nationwide, 68 percent of Americans were overweight or obese in 2008, including 34 percent who were obese – up from 15 percent in 1980.
Some research has suggested that even a small amount of weight loss could be beneficial for many Americans and that calorically sweetened beverages are disproportionately consumed by overweight people. A recent study from the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service found that 10.6 percent of overweight adults consume more than 450 calories a day from calorically sweetened beverages – nearly three times the average of 152 calories.
However, the beverage industry has consistently argued that it is unfair to single out sugary beverages as the sole cause of obesity, and that taxing them is highly regressive.