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Tax of 1 cent per teaspoon of sugar urged for beverages


Four Hawaii lawmakers have proposed a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Democratic senators said the consumption of sugary drinks contributes to obesity.

The senators want to charge 1 cent per teaspoon of sugar in each drink and use the revenue to fund community health centers and help trauma victims. They say the tax would translate to about 10 cents per 12-ounce soda.

Sen. Russell Ruderman (D, Puna), who co-sponsored the bill, said he anticipates opposition from consumers.

Despite the title of the bill, which includes the word "taxation," Ruderman said the bill is a fee, not a tax, because Hawaii residents can choose whether or not to buy sugary drinks.

Senate Minority Leader Rep. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Kahala-Hawaii Kai), the only Republican in the state’s 25-person Senate, said he opposes the bill.

"It has nothing to do with obesity," he said. "It’s a money grab by the state government."

Slom added that the bill diverts attention from more pressing fiscal and economic issues. He said the bill imposes on individual choice and that parents are responsible for deciding what their children drink.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully) said he isn’t sure the bill will find support in the House. While sugary drinks carry health risks, the House will be cautious about enacting broad-based taxes this session, he said.

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