Hawaiian governor Neil Abercrombie has said he won’t push for a soda tax this year – but he will establish a task force intended to reduce Hawaiians’ consumption of sugary beverages and try to find a solution to childhood obesity.
The Democratic governor failed in an attempt to introduce a soda tax in the state last year, after the Senate Health Committee voted 4-1 against the plan to add up to 25 cents in taxes to each bottle. He proposed the tax on soda and similar beverages in the state in his first State of the State address, as part of a budget plan to close the state’s deficit, which stood at $844m last year. The governor said at that time that he aimed to close the deficit within two years.
In this year’s State of the State address, Abercrombie said: “In stark contrast to one year ago, as a result of tough-minded administrative and legislative action, the state finds itself in an all-too-rare financial situation of not having to pay for debt or to balance the budget by raising taxes.”
However, he is still focused on reducing consumption of sugary drinks in the state.
“The fact remains that the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and health is undeniable. I have proposed the establishment of a task force, with members from the public and private sectors, to identify and then implement a solution to this very real health issue in our state. The group’s objective will be navigating us away from the path that has led obesity rates in Hawai'i to have doubled in the last 15 years.”
The governor has requested $1m for early childhood education and health initiatives.
Last year’s proposed soda tax would have raised about $50m a year, $10m of which was intended to be directed to programs to tackle obesity and diabetes.
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.
Industry groups, such as the American Beverage Association, have consistently argued that taxing sugar-sweetened beverages would not reduce obesity or have a significant impact on obesity-related health conditions, and that it is too simplistic to single them out as the sole cause of such problems.