An open letter to the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation regarding the Sugary Beverage Tax
Greetings YKHC staff,
I’m sending this email to the handful of you that I thought of.
I want to take a moment to thank you for your service towards supporting a healthier Bethel region in many ways. I’m also writing to express utter amazement that YKHC has chosen to remain neutral on sugary beverages in Bethel. I’m thinking that WIC, Dental, and Diabetes Prevention, among others, would have an expressed opinion. The amount of pediatric dental in the region alone is astounding, and a fiscal incentive to follow CDC Guidelines on sugar sweetened beverages seems like it would be supported by the regional health corporation.
The CDC guidelines are clear that reducing sugar sweetened beverages (sugary drinks) is beneficial in avoiding many health risks. One of their Healthy People 2030 objectives is “Reduce the consumption of calories from added sugars by persons aged 2 years and over.” Some of the national statistics makes a reader feel like this is status quo – but no – Alaska, and our area of the state have a specifically higher rate. The CDC also specifically states how low income areas consume much more sugary drinks than the rest of the country.
I noticed many studies that were concerned with adolescents, but Bethel region is full of babies also drinking sugary drinks. I feel like we must have more silver capped baby teeth per capita than elsewhere. Is this healthy? Could a reduction in sugary drinks help? The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has invested in the Play Every Day campaign to “promote healthier beverage options for children (such as water), instead of drinking sugary-sweetened beverages that include soda, pop, energy and sugary vitamin drinks, fruit-flavored sugary drinks and sugary powdered drinks.” So – I think we in the region would feel confident in YKHC if our regional health care provider was advocating for CDC guidelines to protect our health in these areas.
The argument that a tax such as this increases the grocery bill or cost to the low-income consumer is false because an excise tax will actually effectively encourage people to reduce their sugary drink purchases. If a few cents extra causes a family to choose to not purchase a sugary drink, they actually will be saving a significant amount of money.
When I taught with the SNAP-Ed Family Nutrition Program, I often heard people express that they never realized how affordable healthier food can be, and how honestly expensive junk food, including sugary drinks, can really be. The studies done by CHOICESproject.org are dedicated to identifying and prioritizing cost-effective strategies to reduce childhood health risks. CHOICES has researched the effectiveness of such excise taxes in incentivizing people to make healthier choices – preventing childhood risk factors and premature deaths.
In a statewide model of a similar tax, “for every $1 it would cost to implement” the tax is “projected to avoid $19.40 in obesity related health care costs” (as a disclaimer, the term “obesity” has become a term that represents increased health risk factors that actually are not entirely based on weight, and I cringe to use the term, but that is a different topic!)
So I wonder about those preventable costs, and who is paying those costs now. Is someone other than the soda industry benefiting from that?
I would like to hear from you, and a response with the official YKHC stance on sugary drinks/sugar sweetened beverages would be appreciated.
CDC.gov Rethink Your Drink
CDC.gov Facts on Added Sugars
CDC.gov Facts on Sugar Sweetened Beverages Intake
Tourism Relief is on the way
Alaskans have been through it all: earthquakes, fires, floods, and landslides. For the past year, our communities, businesses, families, and friends have weathered the everyday challenges of living in the Last Frontier while simultaneously managing a global pandemic.
On all fronts, we worked together. We showed the nation how to manage a pandemic while still having an economy and a society. Even today, Alaska is a leader in many of the critical pandemic health metrics, including hospitalizations, COVID-19 testing, and fully vaccinated citizens.
We organized a safe summer fishing season in some of the most remote parts of North America without triggering a single community outbreak. Our oil, mining, and construction industries conducted successful, labor-intensive operations while protecting their workers and local residents.
Alaska did it right; Alaskans, working together, did what was asked of them to protect each other, their communities, and our economy. We followed the science, and the results speak for themselves.
But the road to recovery will not be short. No one has been hit harder than the 2,180 businesses and dozens of communities that make up Alaska’s $4.5 billion tourism industry. In Ketchikan, over half of local businesses reported a 75 to 100% loss of income in 2020. Skagway saw 27% of its population move away. Even Denali and the Interior have been severely impacted by the global slowdown and the ongoing cruise ban.
The reasons are many: demand shock from tourists concerned about travel safety, the closure of the Canadian border preventing RV trips, and of course, the federal ban on cruise sailings. The latter is expected to deliver a staggering blow of more than $3 billion to Alaska’s economy for the second year in a row.
Behind those dollars are people: Alaskans with dreams who dared to open a shop, put people to work, and provide something unique and wonderful to the place they call home. None of this was their fault.
I’ll continue battling for our cruise season. Across the globe, 400,000 tourists have sailed since last July with only 50 cases of COVID being discovered. As former FDA Director Dr. Scott Gottlieb recently stated, safe cruising is possible. A second year of shutdowns is not supported by science.
But we can’t wait around for the CDC to do the right thing. This is an unprecedented disaster that continues to reverberate to this day. This is about whole sectors of our economy on the brink. Largescale assistance is warranted to get our economy back on track.
The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act recognizes the roll the federal government played in amplifying this economic disaster and contains $1 billion in aid that Alaska’s government has significant discretion to spend. Those recovery dollars should go where the need is greatest.
I’m proposing legislation directing $150 million of those funds toward broad, tourism-related relief. My expectation is that this revitalization effort will include grants to affected businesses, local community and harbor support, and tourism incentives for travelers. It’s important that we mix direct relief with a vigorous effort to drive tourism toward our most heavily impacted regions and communities. Nothing beats getting customers back in the doors.
Secondly, my administration is launching a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign with the goal of reaching every home in America. We want the rest of the country to know what we know: that Alaska is not just an otherworldly beautiful place, but the people are what make it so wonderful. If ever there was a time to discover Alaska, to invest in the experience of a lifetime and meet some of the best people on the planet, the time is now.
Finally, we’re opening vaccine eligibility to all tourists who want one. Soon, you’ll be able to fly to Alaska and receive a free vaccination at our major airports. Americans are all in this together, and Alaska is blessed to be able to help our neighbors. It’s my hope this will spur additional travel as we chalk up another national “first” thanks to your hard work.
Alaskans weathered the storm. They kept the ship afloat in the heavy swells and stabilized the craft. But we’re not home yet. Now is the time for a strong tourism recovery plan and a united front in support of our tourism-based communities. Together, we can overcome these headwinds and bring Alaska safely to port.
Governor Mike Dunleavy