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Should Rhode Island tax sugary drinks?

March 8, 2011

On Wednesday, the House Finance Committee will review legislation (H5432) to put a one cent per ounce tax on soft drinks.   But don’t let the words “soft drink” fool you.  The tax would affect any kind of drink with loads of sugar or corn syrup.  Here’s how the legislation defines “soft drink”-

Any nonalcoholic beverage, whether naturally or artificially flavored, whether carbonated or noncarbonated, sold for human consumption containing sugar, corn syrup or any other high-calorie sweetener, including, but not limited to, cola and other flavored drinks, any fruit or vegetable drink containing fifty percent (50%) or less of natural fruit  juice or natural vegetable juice and all other drinks and beverages commonly referred to as soft drinks, but not including coffee or tea unless the coffee or tea is bottled as a liquid for sale. “Soft drink” does not include “diet” or sugarless, low-calorie beverages.

The money from the tax would go to the Department of Health to pay for efforts to decrease obesity in the Ocean State.  Similar legislation was introduced last year.

The link between sugary drinks and obesity is fairly well established. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine

Sugar-sweetened beverages (soda sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, or other caloric sweeteners and other carbonated and uncarbonated drinks, such as sports and energy drinks) may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic. A recent meta-analysis found that the intake of sugared beverages is associated with increased body weight, poor nutrition, and displacement of more healthful beverages; increasing consumption increases risk for obesity and diabetes.

The authors also note that studies that don’t show a connection between obesity and drinking sugary drinks are often funded by the beverage industry.

But folks opposing taxes like these say the government shouldn’t have a right to tell people what to buy.  Also, retailers worry about how the tax would affect sales and ultimately jobs.  What do you think, should Rhode Island tax soda?

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