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Several cities have adopted a sugary drink tax; Rhode Island aims to be the first state

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Posted at 11:00 AM, Jun 25, 2021

There is no shortage of activity inside the Little Rhody Foods just outside Providence, Rhode Island. Every day, the food distribution center is bustling with activity as workers move as quickly as they can to pack and ship containers of drinks to all across New England.

But after making it through the pandemic, owner Eli Berkowitz was recently hit with another surprise: Rhode Island, where this business is located, was looking at the idea of taxing sugary drinks.

Berkowitz says a sugary drink tax could crush sales like a flattened aluminum can.

"Why would you tax this the same you would tax coke? What's next? Are they going to tax ice cream and candy?" Berkowitz wondered while standing inside his warehouse.

In an effort to raise revenue, while attempting to decrease obesity and diabetes rates, lawmakers in Rhode Island spent most of 2021 pushing for this state to become the first in the nation to adopt a sugary drink tax.

State Sen. Valarie Lawson sponsored the legislation that was recently tabled for the current fiscal year.

"I think it is about people being mindful about the choices they make. This would have the ability to improve health outcomes," Lawson said.

The idea would be to add a tax on any drink with more than 1 gram of sugar.

Lawmakers in Rhode Island estimate the bill would generate an estimated $40 million in revenue. Revenue generated from the sugary drink tax would then be funneled to food banks and food-insecure families by funding SNAP programs.

Amy Nunn, who serves as a professor of public health and medicine at Brown University, is a major proponent of the legislation.

"We as a country need to be consuming a lot fewer sugary drinks. They bring nothing to us nutritionally," Nunn explained.

No state in the U.S. has adopted a sugary drink tax, but Boulder, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Seattle, and four cities in California all have taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

In Philadelphia, proponents say the tax has attributed to a 38% drop in the sale of sugary drinks.

"When you make unhealthy things more expensive, people start drinking water," Nunn said.