Tax on sugary soda is proposed in Illinois

Feb. 20–Soda fans in Illinois will have to pay more for their drinks if a bill for a tax on sugary beverages makes it through the state Legislature.

The Healthy Eating Active Living Act would add a 1-cent per ounce excise tax on the purchase price of soda, energy drinks and other sugar-sweetened drinks and the syrups and powders used to make them. Diet sodas would not carry the tax. The tax would add $1.44 to a 12-pack of soda or 68 cents to a 2-liter bottle.

Proponents estimate the tax could raise more than $600 million annually. One-half of the revenue from the tax would fund nutrition education, community gardens, bike paths and other health and fitness-related programs. The other half would go toward Illinois health insurance for low-income families, with a goal of restoring oral health care for adults to the services covered by Medicaid.

Health experts consider sugar a leading contributor to the country’s obesity epidemic and rising levels of diabetes. Most recently, a large research study also blamed added sugar for causing heart disease. Sweetened drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugar in the American diet.

Proponents say the tax could change purchasing habits because consumers would see the added cost at the grocery shelf or on the restaurant menu, not at the cash register like a sales tax.

“The tax itself would encourage people to reduce their drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute.

The legislation is sponsored by state Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, and state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago.

If passed, the tax would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Other communities are considering similar actions to reduce soda consumption. Legislation in California would require sodas to have health warning labels. Voters in San Francisco will decide in November on a 2-cent-per-ounce sugary drink tax. New York City banned the sale of large sizes of soda, although a judge struck it down and the case is under appeal.

The tax proposal in Illinois is opposed by the Illinois Coalition Against Beverage Taxes and the Illinois Manufacturers Association. Opponents say reducing soda consumption would lead to fewer jobs in the beverage industry, and the tax would place a burden on low-income families.

On Wednesday, Sen. Hunter said obesity and diabetes are more costly to poor communities.

The legislation is Illinois House Bill 5690 and Senate Bill 3524.