Ige's Plan To Tax Sugary Drinks Is Viable And Smart - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

May Okihiro

May Okihiro is a pediatrician at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and a community-based clinical researcher with the University of Hawaii Department of Pediatrics.

At a time when the country is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and when ensuring overall good health should be a priority, it is unfortunate that some legislators have dismissed the proposed 2-cent-per-ounce fee on sugary drinks proposed by Governor David Ige.

Experience in other U.S. communities, and in many other countries, has shown that a sugary drink fee (or tax) can be a viable model to support community health and wellness. A small fee on sugary beverages will discourage purchases of these drinks and generate revenue that can be used to improve the long-term health of our children and families.

Research clearly shows the strong association between excess sugar consumption and chronic diseases experienced by too many in Hawaii including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and liver disease.

Sugary beverages are the single largest source of extra sugar in our diets. In addition, sugary beverages increase risk for tooth decay, an important consideration since children in Hawaii have some of the highest rates of dental cavities in the country!

The bill to add a 2-cent-per-ounce fee on sugary drinks is a much needed response to a billion-dollar industry that has wreaked havoc on our communities’ health for decades.

The benefit of the added fee will be two-fold. First, the fee will encourage people to choose healthier drink options. Second, the fee will raise revenue (estimated at $65.8 million) at a time when our government has little extra funding to support health and wellness programs for our families.

The sugary drinks revenue could be used to fund programs to make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable, to expand physical education in schools, to make improvements to our parks, to improve oral health services or to increase access to diabetes prevention programs — just to name a few.

Sugar, sugar everywhere: Americans drink a huge amount of soda every year — in 2018, an average of over 38 gallons per person. Eddie Welker/Flickr

Public Support For A Sugary Drink Tax Is High

We know the public welcomes this: A December 2020 public opinion poll among registered Hawaii voters conducted by Ward Research for the Hawaii Public Health Institute showed that 79% of those surveyed support a 2-cent-per-ounce fee on sugary beverages when revenue is used for community health improvement.

Among low-income earners, support is even higher at 84%, an important consideration for lawmakers as economically challenged families will experience the largest health benefits from a sugary drink fee. We hope that lawmakers will listen to their community members and take comfort — and direction — from them.

We cannot remain passive in the face of the onslaught of advertising that clearly targets children and youth.

It should be sobering in the midst of a pandemic to be reminded that in Hawaii, one out of four adolescents and more than half of adults are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for other chronic conditions.

From 2007 to 2017, the percent of people with diabetes in Hawaii jumped from 7.7% to 13.1%. So, while some worry that a sugary drink fee may threaten jobs, we definitely know the huge toll that chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, have on the livelihood and lifespan of thousands of people in Hawaii every year.

Healthier communities are more resilient communities. This legislation will help ensure that Hawaii communities emerge from the public health and economic crises we’re now experiencing stronger than before.

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About the Author

May Okihiro

May Okihiro is a pediatrician at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and a community-based clinical researcher with the University of Hawaii Department of Pediatrics.

Latest Comments (0)

This tax has nothing to do with trying to curb sugary drink consumption but everything about bleeding working families out of the last few cents in their pockets. What's next? Metered time in the sun because it can lead to skin cancer? C'mon man! Tackle some real problems and let me drink my soda in peace.

PCDoctorUSA · 2 years ago

We pay GET tax on these drinks already. So, if the idea is to raise taxes on unhealthful items, let's look again at beer, musubi, SPAM, white rice, candies, Girl Scout cookies, and on and on and on. The answer isn't higher taxes, it is self control and moderation. That takes a different approach. Too easy to just feed more money to government.

CatManapua · 2 years ago

The Legislature is only floating this tax as a distraction, and you're all falling for it. Collecting $60M is a drop in the bucket against our $1.4B deficit, especially when that $60M is sequestered into yet another "special" fund.What's the plan to deal with the $1.4B shortfall?

rfc · 2 years ago

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