Sen. Nesselbush concedes that ‘sugary drink’ bill needs work

Sen. Nesselbush concedes that ‘sugary drink’ bill needs work

PROVIDENCE – A bill to place an extra tax on sugary drinks in Rhode Island got the dreaded “held for further study” treatment last Thursday, and its sponsor, Sen. Donna Nesselbush, is conceding this week that it probably needs more work.

Nesselbush, of District 15, serving parts of Pawtucket and North Providence, said the soda industry was obviously against her bill, but she maintains that the “correlation between sugar and disease appears strong.”

The bill developed by the American Heart Association had drawn support from some advocacy groups but strong opposition from others, including the Libertarian Party of Rhode Island.

Under the bill sponsored by Nesselbush, sodas would have had a 2-cent tax tacked on per fluid ounce, or 24 cents for a 12-ounce can. Estimates were that the bill could generate an extra $27 million in tax revenue, to be funneled not into the General Fund but into the new Children’s Health Promotion Fund.

Nesselbush said the language in the bill regarding obesity seemed problematic as it appeared to combine sugar and obesity as the cause of disease when one witness pointed out that sugar is dangerous and causes disease even for people with small or medium-sized bodies.

Taxing as a way to drive people away from a behavior “is tricky,” Nesselbush told The Breeze. Though the American Heart Association is solidly behind the bill, she does think it needs more work.

There’s no need for opponents to worry about the bill passing this year after the Senate Finance Committee held it for further study, she said.

Nesselbush had promoted the “small tax on sugary drinks” as an way “to decrease sugar consumption and increase health,” according to a release.

Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, was among those to testify on the bill. Nesselbush and her wife, Kelly Carse, own affiliate Industrial Revolution CrossFit on Smithfield Avenue in Pawtucket. 

Glassman testified against the efforts by the soda industry to influence health science and policy throughout the country.

Joining Glassman as Nesselbush’s guest was Nick Wishart, a member of Industrial Revolution CrossFit who in January completed the World Marathon Challenge, successfully running seven marathons in seven days on seven different continents.

No other states currently have a bill similar to the one from Nesselbush. State lawmakers attempted to pass a similar measure back in 2013.