A Novel Idea: Improve Health & Communities, Lower Cost

As the Senate Ways & Means Committee readies its FY2018 budget proposal for release this week,  MHA has reiterated its strong support for the inclusion of a tiered excise tax on sugary drinks.

As part of a growing coalition – including the American Heart Association, the Massachusetts Health Council, the Boston Foundation, and others – MHA has urged support for language modeled on SB1562/HB3329, filed by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton). That legislation recommends taxing sugary drinks based on the amount of sugar that they contain. Drinks with more than 20 grams of added sugar per 12 ounces would have a two-cents-per-ounce tax added, and there would be a one-cent-per-ounce tax on drinks with between 5 and 20 grams of added sugar. The new tax would not affect drinks with less 5 ounces of added sugar per ounce, nor would people be prohibited from buying sugary drinks.

The primary goal of the proposal is reduce the consumption of high-sugar beverages and, in doing so, reduce the direct link the beverages have to preventable conditions such Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and dental decay. Children, in particular, have been a particular marketing focus for these products.

“The statistical evidence is clear that the rate of type 2 diabetes among the youth of our country is rising due to more overweight children,” said MHA’s President & CEO Lynn Nicholas, FACHE, who before coming to MHA was president of the American Diabetes Association. “Drinking just one sugary drink a day increases the risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack by 20%. So taking the initial steps to improve public health by dissuading the consumption of beverages with proven harm and little nutritional value should be a no-brainer.”

Revenues from the proposal are directed toward statewide prevention and public health priorities, including safe drinking water, nutrition programs and funding for the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund.

The proposal builds upon similar initiatives that have been enacted both in the U.S. and around the globe. A recent study in Health Affairs demonstrated that a sugary drink tax in Mexico not only successfully drove down sugary drink consumption, but did so year after year and promoted the consumption of healthier products.

“This bill is a win for public health,” Nicholas said. “It is a win for driving down healthcare costs, which is a universally agreed upon, longstanding goal for the commonwealth. And it is a win for improving the state’s finances for use in supporting positive programs to protect our youth and improve our communities. Massachusetts is known for its leadership in improving the health of its citizens. It’s time to show leadership on this issue as well.”