The Rhode Island Public Health Institute (RIPHI) today announced their strong support of legislation (2021-S 0327 / 2021-H 5715) introduced by Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) and Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket) establishing a tax on sugary drinks in Rhode Island. If enacted, the legislation would designate a portion of the revenues generated to expand access to nutritious food for low- income families by establishing a Retail SNAP Incentive Program that would incentivize consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.
“Now, more than ever, many Rhode Islanders are hungry and have limited access to healthy foods. This important legislation will help alleviate hunger and promote healthy eating across Rhode Island,” said Dr. Amy Nunn, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute. “We are committed to developing innovative and long-term solutions to Rhode Island’s most pressing public health problems. RIPHI commends Senator Lawson and Representative Barros for their leadership on this issue.”
According to Healthy Food America, a sugary drinks tax can reduce sales of sugary beverages, improve health equity and reduce the rate of costly and preventable diseases. The State of Childhood Obesity also reports that in Rhode Island, obesity rates nearly tripled from 11.1 percent in 1990 to 30.0 percent in 2019. Rhode Island obesity rates are similar to those in the American South. Low-income populations and communities of color in Rhode Island also experience higher rates of obesity than non-Hispanic White communities.
Under the legislation, beverage distributors will pay a $.015 (one point five cents) tax per ounce on bottled sugary drinks, syrups, or powders offered for sale. The tax will not apply to products without added sugars, such as diet sodas or bottled water and provides a carve out for bottlers that generate under $2 million per year in revenue. A portion of the revenue generated from the tax will provide SNAP recipients with a minimum $0.50 credit on their EBT Card for each $1.00 spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at participating retailers to encourage the purchase of healthy foods.
“I’m proud that this legislation will work to address major public health issues in Rhode Island by reducing the amount of sugary drinks consumed, all while providing healthier incentives for our most vulnerable population,” said Senator Lawson. “This legislation is a win-win for Rhode Island, and I will be working diligently with Senate leadership and my colleagues in government to get it passed this session.”
“The pandemic has brought many things to light, particularly around food access and health disparities in our most vulnerable populations, and we need to make the appropriate investments to help correct this,” said Representative Barros. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation as a solution, and look forward to working with the House leadership to pass it.”
“We do not need to look far for proof that taxing sugary drinks is a proven policy for improving overall public health and addressing health inequities – taxes reduce sales of unhealthy sugary drinks substantially and generate revenues to improve the health and well-being of communities disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes and other chronic disease linked to sugary drinks. For example, Seattle’s tax has raised $24 million per year in revenues and contributed to a 22% reduction in purchases of these products,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, Healthy Food America Executive Director and past co-chair of Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board. “And the revenues have been used in part to greatly expand its Fresh Bucks nutrition incentive initiative and other healthy food access programs, making fruits and vegetables more affordable for thousands of low-income families. I applaud the RI state legislature for considering this important proposal.”