why focus on soda and sugary drinks?

Sugary drinks are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet, and this excess sugar consumption is linked to increased risk of diabetes and other diseases, like heart and liver disease, obesity, and tooth decay. Sugary drinks, unlike their food counterparts, have little to no nutritional value and do not have fiber that helps the body feel full. 

what’s the difference between a tax and a fee?

The difference between a tax and a fee is administrative – meaning that for the consumer, there is virtually no difference between a sugary drink fee and tax. A sugary drink tax would be run by the Department of Taxation, while a it would be a fee for the Department of Health. 

what drinks would the fee apply to?

The fee would apply to drinks with added sugars, such as energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened teas and coffees, and soda. The fee would not apply to beverages like infant formula, alcohol, or those without added caloric sweeteners, such as diet soda or 100 percent fruit juice.

is this a grocery tax?

No. This fee would only apply to sugary drinks, not essential grocery items like fruits, vegetables, eggs, etc. If you typically purchase sugary beverages, you may expect to pay a slightly higher amount on these items. For a 6 pack of canned soda, that would be an additional $1.44.

are sugary drink fees regressive?

It depends. The unfortunate truth is that diet-related diseases–which are by and large caused by sugary drink consumption–are regressive. It’s well documented that both the health and cost burden of these diseases gets disproportionately shouldered by lower income households. By reducing sugar consumption, this proposal can actually save these same households millions of dollars in healthcare costs. 

However, that’s not enough. The most effective way to prevent a regressive tax is to ensure that revenues get channeled directly back to the communities that are most impacted. This can include programs like farm to school, DA BUX, and more (see a list of more ideas below). This proposal is actually a progressive way to improve the health of communities most affected by diet-related disease. Low-income children and families will experience the largest health benefits from a fee on sugary drinks because the revenue generated can fund healthy programs that can help those who need them the most. 

how would the revenue be spent? 

Revenue generated from the fee (projected at least to be $65.8 million) can be used for health improvement programs that our communities need! Such community benefits can include:
Nutrition programs for low-income residents, such as Double Up Food Bucks

  • Nutrition programs for low-income residents, such as Double Up Food Bucks
  • School cooking and gardening programs
  • Pre-K expansion
  • College-readiness programs
  • Safe active spaces and physical education programs
  • Oral health services
  • Other programs to prevent childhood obesity and chronic disease

will a sugary drink fee harm the economy and result in job loss?

Similar to Big Tobacco, the beverage industry likes to make the same claim when fighting taxes. There is no current evidence that tax increases led to a drop in store revenues or job losses. In fact, similar price increases have shown that purchases of bottled water and other healthier options increases as demand for unhealthy sugary drinks declined. 

As consumers shift to healthier products, this provides an opportunity for the beverage industry to come out with new, healthier beverage options, similar to the U.K., averting job losses. 

The Bitter Truth Hawaiʻi Campaign is a joint initiative of the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute and Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, funded in part by a grant from Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association with support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.