Tax, marketing restrictions eyed to reduce soda consumption
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — The average child consumes enough sugary drinks each year to fill a bathtub — more than 30 gallons — according to two organizations that this week recommended a suite of policy options aimed at reducing kids’ access to such beverages and encouraging healthier alternatives.
Sounding an alarm bell over potential health impacts, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association issued a series of recommendations, including raising prices of sugary drinks through an excise tax, with revenues dedicated “in part toward reducing health and socioeconomic disparities.”
The pediatricians group said the policy statement marks the first time it has recommended taxing sugary drinks. Other recommendations include efforts to decrease sugary drink marketing to children and teens and making healthier drinks like water and milk the default option on children’s menus and vending machines.
“We’re probably on sugary drinks where we were 20 years ago on tobacco, where people are still not 100 percent convinced that there’s a problem,” Allyson Perron of the American Heart Association told the News Service. “More and more things are coming out — the high rates of young children with diabetes and heart disease and really unhealthy weights. We have kids that have high cholesterol when they’re in elementary school, we’re seeing an increase in cases of heart disease and stroke in the young, and part of that is the unhealthy diet.”
On Beacon Hill, lawmakers have offered a pair of proposals that take aim at kids’ consumption of sugary beverages and align with the Academy of Pediatrics/Heart Association recommendation.
Sen. Jason Lewis, Rep. Kay Khan and Rep. Jon Santiago have filed bills that would impose an excise tax on sugary drinks, with the tax increasing along with the sugar content.
Under the bills (S 1709, H 2529), beverages with 7.5 grams of sugar or less per 12 fluid ounces would not be taxed, and those with 30 grams of sugar or more per 12 fluid ounces would be taxed at a rate of 2 cents per ounce. Drinks that fall in between those two sugar levels would be taxed 1 cent per ounce.
The tax is “based around the same idea of how we tax tobacco,” Perron said, and would generate somewhere between $280 million and $320 million a year in revenue.
The same three lawmakers have also filed bills (S 1291, H 1947) that would take steps aimed at reducing youths’ access and exposure to sugary drinks.
The legislation would ban the marketing of sugary drinks in schools — ads on scoreboards, for example — and require that advertisements for sugary drinks carry a label stating, “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
It would also require that the “default beverage” in any chain restaurant’s children’s meal be water, sparkling water, flavored water, 100 percent juice with no added sweeteners, or milk. Customers could still request an alternative beverage.
No state has imposed a sugary drinks tax, but a handful of cities have done so, including Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, California; Boulder, Colorado; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Seattle, Washington.
With supporters of taxing sugary drinks hoping the pediatricians’ input buoys their efforts, advocates are also separately calling on lawmakers to raise the cigarette tax.
Cancer patents, survivors and their families on Thursday visited the State House as part of a Cancer Action Network lobby day, asking legislators to include a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax in this year’s budget. The group is also asking for the cigar tax to be increased to 80 percent of wholesale.
The state excise tax on cigars and smoking tobacco is currently 40 percent of the wholesale price, and cigarettes are taxed at $3.51 per pack of 20.
In his budget, Gov. Charlie Baker recommended extending the tobacco tax to vaping products and e-cigarettes.