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Bill Introduced to Impose Sugary Drink Tax in Illinois


Illinois lawmakers unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would create a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugary beverages, part of an ongoing effort to combat obesity in the Land of Lincoln.

Introduced by Sen. Mattie Hunter (D) and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D), the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Act is backed by the American Heart Association and Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity. If implemented, the tax could generate more than $600 million for state nutrition, physical activity, wellness and healthcare programs.

 “We need to do a better job of educating the public about the link between consuming sugary soft drinks and obesity,” Hunter said in a statement. “The only way to save lives is to fight this issue from both ends: through preventive measures and programs to help those who are overweight or have diabetes.”

An excise tax such as the one in the bill is likely to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, which is considered an important part of the effort to reduce obesity. According to the Alliance, one study found that the tax could lead to a 9.3 percent reduction in childhood obesity, reduce 3,400 new cases of diabetes and save taxpayers $150 million in state and private healthcare spending.

Half of the money generated from the tax would fund the state Medicaid program, while the other half would be distributed by a special council to businesses, schools, local governments and hospitals to fund health and wellness programs designed to make it easier for people to lead healthy lives.

Dr. Goutham Rao, chairman of the American Heart Association’s Obesity Committee, noted that sugar-sweetened beverages are “an ideal target” for obesity prevention efforts such as the tax because they are the No. 1 source of added sugar in American diets.

“The evidence linking them to obesity and related risks is very strong,” Rao said. “While obesity is complex and has many causes, discouraging sugar sweetened beverage consumption is a simple, single behavior which can have a positive impact.”

Rao added that reducing sugary drink consumption is among the simpler strategies for helping people reduce calorie intake. Assessing overall diet and providing counseling on things such as reading food labels can be intense and complicated. But asking people to drink fewer sugary beverages is an easier strategy that is likely to lead to greater success.

Bridget Williams, a registered nurse who is also an AHA volunteer, noted that it is sometimes hard to say no to her teenage sons when they want to buy unhealthy treats and snacks at the grocery store. An SSB tax will help her make healthier choices, she said.

“I will definitely think twice before buying that case of soda. This will not only help our family’s budget, it will also be a healthier choice for our family and encourage our children to make healthier choices as well,” she said.

AHA recommends limiting the amount of added sugars to no more than half of the daily discretionary calorie allowance, which amounts to no more than 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories per day for men.

Other organizations supporting the bill include the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network, EverThrive Illinois, Ounce of Prevention Fund, Seven Generations Ahead and several Illinois-based physicians, medical and public health organizations.

“We know our communities are suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer,” Gabel said. “It is critically important to generate revenue to invest in solutions to these complex programs, especially in communities that are burdened the most.”