Soda Tax in Philly

Photo obtained from USA Today

Philadelphian Mayor Michael Nutter recently proposed a two-cent per ounce tax on soda as part of a process to help close the city’s $150 million budget gap.  This type of tax is being proposed in other areas as well as a way to simultaneously generate money and fight obesity.  According to an article in the New York Times, Americans consume 46 gallons of soda per person annually, the equivalent of 40 pounds of sugar.  As quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine (2009), “The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease; therefore, a compelling case can be made for the need for reduced consumption of these beverages.”  A tax may decrease consumption of soft drinks among Americans, while the money generated from the tax could be put towards lowering health care costs and increasing nutritional awareness.
However, opponents of the tax claim that the few extra cents being tacked onto sodas will not really be enough to substantially decrease the amount of soda Americans consume.  Furthermore, many opponents state the obvious:  A soda tax would not nearly be enough to decrease the swarming obesity crisis within America.  Opponents also argue that those who do quit their soda drinking habits, particularly children, will simply switch to other sweetened drinks, such as chocolate milk or artificially sweetened juices.    (Although, Philly’s proposal plans to impose the tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages, including energy drinks, ice tea, and sugary-flavored milk).  Adversaries believe that the government is merely just linking obesity to the tax in order to get Americans to agree to pay additional money needed for the continuously increasing deficits the government is creating.  Therefore, they claim it is unfair to just place a tax on something in order to generate extra governmental revenue.

Although the soda tax alone undoubtedly will not wholly solve America’s obesity epidemic, I believe there is no harm in attempting to use it to help cut down on unhealthy diet habits among our citizens.  According to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years, forcing America to put $150 billion towards treating obesity-related conditions.  One out of every three children is obese.  It’s blatantly obvious that we need to start dealing with this issue, and every little step will help.  Why not use the soda tax to help moves us in the right direction?  While it may be a small step, at least it is a step, one that I can really see little harm resulting from its enactment.

It is not like the government arbitrarily chose an item to slap a tax on.  Soda is just like tobacco, an unnecessary comfort in which people choose to indulge.  Sure, indulgence is okay once in awhile, but this is exactly why sodas are not being banned altogether.  Instead, just like cigarettes, the unessential-to-life beverage would be taxed.  This would create a substantial amount of money (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 2010, an estimated $70 million per year for Philadelphia) that could be used to both help decrease governmental deficits and promote nutrition.  Even if the tax did not decrease the amount of soda people consumed, at least it would generate money that could be put towards educating people about the seriousness and prevalence of obesity and how to prevent it from a continuous increase.  I really don’t see how a soda tax would be harmful.  Sure it will take a toll on some people’s pockets, but eventually those people will learn to save their money for healthier, more essential food items, ultimately benefiting them in the end.

Over half of Philadelphian residents are overweight or obese, with 70% of North Philadelphians measuring as overweight or obese.  These statistics alone show that Philadelphia could definitely benefit from a soda tax.  Whether the tax will actually get people to stop drinking soda and start running towards healthier options, who knows.  Either way, the money could be used to help educate people on why they should take action to prevent obesity, particularly in the poor neighborhoods, which often lack the means to thorough education on health management and tend to be the highest consumers of soda.  At the least, a soda tax would help Philadelphia close its $150 billion deficit.  It seems reasonable to me to use an unneeded beverage to help do this rather than cut back on public services or increase overall taxes.  Could this actually be the first time the government turns astray from its normal subsidies towards junk food and starts promoting healthy food (even if it’s just through demoting unhealthy items?  We’ll see if this measure will actually stand strong and get passed.

Is your town/city trying to implement a soda tax?  What is your opinion of placing a tax on soda?

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  • Reply
    Simply Life
    March 19, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Such an interesting topic – I’ll be curious to hear what happens!

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Thanks for the information! Michelle Obama is on the cover of Newsweek this week talking about childhood obesity – I haven’t had a chance to read the article yet.

    I have mixed feelings about taxing soda – like you point out, will it just drive people to drink other sugary drinks?

  • Reply
    Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman
    March 19, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Thankfully, my city isn’t nickle and diming us on sweet drinks yet. I’m not overweight but I enjoy Diet Coke–and I don’t think I should have to pay more for it. Soda, chocolate milk, whatever, those aren’t the problem. They’re totally OK in moderation. The problem is drinking a 42 oz. soda while eating two double cheeseburgers and a large order of fries every day. It’s a problem of the entire diet. Besides, I’m one of those people who thinks this won’t do much to deter soda drinking. It will just target the poor and force them to pay more for the same stuff they always drink. I think it’s just a veiled effort for the debt-ridden government to get more tax money, but I think it’s a shame that the poorest people will pay the most for it.

    (Sorry, didn’t mean to sound antagonistic!)

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I shudder to think what would happen in Tulsa what would happen if a soda tax was imposed.

    I do think that soda is a huge issue. But so it Gatorade used inappropriately. And JUICE. And so on. It just opens a whoooole can of worms. I’ll be interested to see what happens!

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I’m not 100% sure why my opinion is on this, but I can’t believe there aren’t other ways the city can find funds to make up for the deficit. There have to be overpaid officials and unnecessary spending in other parts of the budget. It also seems strange to choose one piece of the tangled web of foods and drinks that make us fat to tax, there are so many other things that affect obesity. We all know this tax isn’t about helping reduce obesity, or about helping people, it’s about the city not having enough money, and I’d rather they just say that.

    But after hearing the outcry from people about why they don’t want it, I’m more likely to be approving of it. Yes, bottling groups will lose money and employees will lose jobs. But those bottling companies create an incredible number of petroleum-based vessels that contribute to our environmental problems, and I’d rather see them start to lose money and change the way they operate. We should create jobs in industries that help people, although that involves a culture change…

    I’d suggest Philly residents pay for trash pickup, but that’s what the city wage tax is supposed to help with, right? And if we made people pay for trash, they’d just throw it all over the street anyway, which makes me really sad.

    But we take a lot of things for granted – fire departments, road maintenance, snow removal, libraries – and other basic services the city provides that cost money. So we either find a way to pay for them, (and why not have it be a tax on something no one should really be consuming anyway), or we lose them. That’s it.

    Just a few opinions!

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    They are trying the same thing here in NYC…I am actually torn about this topic. At first I thought it was a good idea but now I am thinking about all the people who are unemployed and is it fair to give them just one more thing to pay for? I know it’s only a few cents but it will add up in the end.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I agree that is tobacco is taxed, soda is fair game. They are both unhealthy commodities. People can still consume them or smoke them, but they need to make a decision on the financial aspect of it. I can see both sides to the argument, and as a teacher I always try to get my students to see both sides, but in my personal opinion it is a good idea because people seem not to get the hint otherwise.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    I actually agree totally with the tax. There are taxes on cigarettes for the exact same reason. These items can lead to major health issues that add the healthcare costs. If they add to the problem, then a tax on them is appropriate to help pay for it. I believe that it is going to take one small step at a time to fix the issue of obesity and every little but helps. There is no nutritional value in these drinks and a small tax won’t be an issue for someone who is only indulging in them once in a while, which is fine. Everything in moderation.

  • Reply
    marla {Family Fresh Cooking}
    March 20, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    “Eventually those people will learn to save their money for healthier, more essential food items, ultimately benefiting them in the end.” We could only hope these realizations would occur from this taxation. Not sure it will, but i’ll keep my fingers crossed. I don’t drink soda or any sweetened drinks for that matter, so I say go for taxation!

  • Reply
    Kady @ Livin, Lovin, Learnin
    March 20, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I think it’s a great way to raise money for more health education in lower income communities and other efforts aimed at reducing obesity. However, like others have mentioned, it is possible that people will either still buy the sodas (and therefore become poorer and less likely to buy healthier foods) or they will simply find other unhealthy alternatives. I like the plan to put the tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages (but would those with artificial sweeteners count?).
    But I agree with you that such a small tax probably won’t cause much harm (most people probably wouldn’t even notice the increase) and a little extra government money towards health education would be great!

  • Reply
    March 21, 2010 at 8:33 am

    You bring up a very interesting topic Grace! So funny you mentioned the soda tax thing, because in class a few weeks ago we got into a little debate about taxing because of the obesity epidemic and whatnot. And although I do think there needs to be a shift in how our country works food-wise, I don’t think that shift will happen by taxing soda, or fast food. I think if a person should be able to drink a soda, they should be able to drink the damn soda, but it is the approach to soda drinking nowadays, and the overwhelming emphasis on “supers sizing” and “convenience” that leads people to drink SO MUCH soda. I just started reading “Stuffed” by Hank Cardello and it is very interesting, and kind of specific to this post! I’m looking forward to reading the entire thing.

    Great post my dear as always.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    I literally NEVER buy soda so it wont put a dent in my wallet, however I wish that as a society we could cut the crap and move toward more wholesome, simple foods. I don’t think taxing soda will deter many people. So many people already know what they should and shouldn’t eat/drink but often habits or convenience triumphs over healthy choices.

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