Soda tax on Rhode Island legislators' agenda

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February 10, 2013

Rhode Island

By: George Sousouris

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island: Soda drinkers beware: your sugary beverages may soon cost a little more if a group of Rhode Island legislators have their way. The bill, co-sponsored by a group of representatives including Larry Valencia (D), Teresa Tanzi (D), Arthur Handy (D), Maria Cimini (D), and Edith Ajello (D), would impose a 1 cent per once tax on sugar sweetened beverages. That amounts to $1.28 per gallon.[1]

More specifically, the bill applies the tax to any drink which is defined as a “nonalcoholic beverage … containing sugar, corn syrup or any other high-calorie sweetener including … sodas, sports drinks or energy drinks.” Supporters of such a measure claim that it will be an effective tool in the fight against obesity in Rhode Island, which currently stands at 25.4% among adults. These advocates are at least partially supported by a study published by Harvard’s School of Public Health last September which showed that sugar-laden drinks are a contributing factor to the nation's struggle with obesity.[2]

The Center for Consumer Freedom is leading the charge against the bill, and is heavily backed by the restaurant and retail industries which claim that in addition to being bad for business, soda and energy drinks are not the only foods contributing to the obesity epidemic. The CCF argues instead that such a tax is "absurdly misguided when it comes to promoting weight loss. Study after study has demonstrated that soda is not a unique contributor to obesity."[3]

In a high profile case just to Rhode Island's South, the American Beverage Association is suing the City of New York to defeat and repeal soda tax initiatives. This debate comes just weeks after the Coca-Cola Company launched a massive new ad campaign with two minute prime-time spots confronting soda's increasingly tarnished image. This is largely seen as an offensive move by the industry to confront policy makers, and decouple links between beverage makers and obesity.[4]

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