With soda tax, Philly pioneers healthier path
Despite a $4 million disinformation campaign waged by the beverage industry, the Philadelphia City Council voted 13 to 4 last week to become the first large U.S. city to adopt a tax on sugary drinks. Philadelphia joins Berkeley, California, where voters approved a similar measure in 2014 by a 3-to-1 margin, as the first two cities to take on Big Soda in this way and win. We actively supported the Berkeley effort and we are pleased to see the Philadelphia tax succeed.
In an op-ed published in Monday’s edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, PI’s Juliet Sims, Jessica Berthold, and Sarah Mittermaier examine the national implications this historic victory represents for public health and equity, and the role it could play in building momentum for soda tax initiatives on the November ballot in Oakland, Boulder, San Francisco, and other cities across the country:
The 1.5 cent-per-ounce Philly tax is expected to generate approximately $91 million in its first year, with some of the revenues flowing to pre-Kindergarten programs and public resources like parks and libraries. Putting resources from the tax back into the community by supporting education, physical activity, and social connectedness is exactly the point of such taxes. That’s especially the case in cities like Philadelphia—the poorest of the nation’s 10 largest cities, with a high level of diet-related chronic disease and a dearth of community resources in low-income neighborhoods.
The beverage industry has fought and killed at least a dozen soda tax proposals in New York state, California, Maine, San Francisco, and Telluride, Colorado. Big Soda pulled out the same tired playbook in Philadelphia, preying on peoples’ economic anxieties by branding the initiative as a “grocery tax” that would disproportionately impact low-income residents. Responding to the notion that soda companies would spend millions of dollars out of concern for the welfare of the City’s low-income communities, particularly communities of color, the authors write:
These expressions of concern are a first for an industry that shamelessly blankets low-income neighborhoods with its ads and has saddled generations of its low-income consumers with high-price tag medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. The beverage industry spends approximately $866 million per year to market to kids everywhere they go, from their homes to their classrooms, and through their social networks. This target marketing of kids -- especially low-income kids of color -- happens not just in Philly, but across the country, and is especially egregious given the clear links between soda consumption and chronic diseases.
Berkeley and Philadelphia are the tipping point of a growing national movement to push back against an industry that profits at the expense of public health. With each successive victory, more cities across the country will be inspired and emboldened to stand up to Big Soda, eventually bubbling up to the state and national level.
The op-ed concludes:
For other important health issues of our time, such as smoking bans and seatbelt laws, change began in a single city or state. These policies spread, and undoubtedly have made our country a healthier place to live, though they were controversial when proposed and opposed by industry. Philadelphia will take its spot alongside these places as a public health pioneer that invested in its community’s health and equity, and inspired many other cities to follow its lead.
Read the full op-ed at the Philadelphia Inquirer.