The Sweetened Beverage Tax:
When Holistic Health and Government Team Up
August 2nd, 2017 the Sweetened Beverage Tax most recent amendment was completed and implemented throughout Cook County. By August 17th, 2017 the tax was fully operational throughout various retail stores in the county, taxing one cent per ounce for any non-alcoholic beverages that contain sugar or artificial sweetener. This tax ordinance was championed by board president Toni Preckwinkle. This has been a hot topic since the Cook County Board enacted it last fall.
Considered a “sin tax,” the ordinance faced opposition from many sides, including customers of Walgreens, 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, and the Illinois Retail Merchant Association. Since the tax has been unleashed on the public there have been class action lawsuits involved with retailers, allegedly “taxing the tax” where consumers were charged an additional sales tax after the sweetened sugar tax ordinance was applied. The merchant group claims the ordinance is unconstitutional and went through the legal process, starting in June and ending in July, but Preckwinkle and the Cook County Commissioner’s Board were able to amend the ordinance. During this time, Preckwinkle requested the merchant group pay $17 million of lost revenue, but once the case was dismissed by Cook County Circuit Judge, Daniel Kubasiak, the request was not pursued.
Though the sugar tax has ruffled many feathers, there are reasons outside of the monetary gains that may have a bigger impact on creating healthy futures for Cook County. Preckwinkle is currently CEO of Illinois Public Health Institute and ED of Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, so one could quickly understand the initiative behind this ordinance considering that Cook County has an obesity and overweight rate that is higher than the national average. “Sin taxes” are able to ease the burden that harmful products put on a community, as well as modeling responsible behavior with financial incentives.
Both sides of this debate may of had their own interest in mind, but one victory was obtained during the delay of the implementation of this ordinance; SNAP will be exempt from the sweetened beverage tax! The ordinance came with three specific amendments: the first amendment is defining who is a retailer, the second defining what is a sweetened beverage, and the third amendment is for defining the procedure for those buying sweetened beverages with SNAP. The exemption allows those with SNAP benefits to purchase sweetened beverages without the tax applied, freeing up low income people from this cent per ounce tax, and allowing the retailers to put the charges on the bill to their distributors. The distributors will be able to claim the deduction and the retailers are responsible for the collection of the tax.