On June 16, 2016, Philadelphia became the second U.S. city—and the first large one—to approve a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, despite millions of dollars spent by the soda industry to defeat it.
The 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax will apply to sugar-sweetened and diet soft drinks as well as to other bottled, canned, and fountain drinks that are sweetened, either with sugar or non-caloric sweeteners. The tax will be levied on beverage distributors, though it’s likely to trickle down to consumers in the form of higher prices for those drinks.
Philadelphia joins Berkeley, California, which in November 2014 made history when three-quarters of its residents approved the country’s first tax on sugary soft drinks, despite major opposition from the beverage industry. A similar ballot measure lost the same year in San Francisco. But neighboring Oakland has announced it will put a soda tax on the ballot this November.
The Philadelphia measure takes effect amid growing evidence that soda taxes really do reduce consumption of those beverages. In Mexico, where a peso-per-liter soda tax was enacted in 2013, purchases had dropped by 12 percent one year after it went into effect.Soda and other sweetened beverages supply about half of the added sugar in the average American diet and are prime contributors to weight gain and the obesity epidemic. Even diet soda has been associated with the accumulation of abdominal fat in overweight and obese people, although the evidence is less solid than for sugary drinks. Research also suggests that people who drink diet beverages tend to compensate by eating more food.
Bottom line: We think soda taxes are sweet news for public health, especially for the health of children, to whom soft drinks are aggressively marketed. Kudos to Philadelphia, and here’s to other major cities following suit.