Last summer, we took a look at the sweet beverage tax in my home town of Philadelphia. At the time of publication of that blog, I thought that once the new law was passed the controversy would die down. The public health logic that fueled my interest in the project seemed so obvious, I assumed that once the shock value of this type of law was digested, the issue would fade from the limelight.
Just the opposite has occurred.
The beverage industry, with a fervor that reminds me of the big tobacco industry, has launched a full-scale battle with ads on public buses, TV and radio in addition to a website to appeal to the public to repeal this legislation. The money that is generated from this tax is used for education for the children of Philadelphia.
I find it fascinating that the battle on both sides seems to center on where the money that is generated from the tax is spent rather than the purpose behind the tax. The opponents say that the city has other sources of money for the children, and the proponents talk about all the children that have been helped by the new funds. I have yet to hear anyone talk about the danger of sugary beverages and the obesity epidemic in America and in the big cities, in particular.
The opponents talk about discrimination against the poor, as they are less able to afford the tax and also less able to travel outside of the city to buy sugary drinks. Oddly, as pointed out in my blog last year, the obesity epidemic is more prevalent in the disadvantaged population by a two-to-one margin. I would argue with the opponents of this program that the law is helping exactly the right population.
In an article published in The Hill, by Lynn Silver, MD, MPH, titled, “Soda taxes are a sweetener for public health efforts,” the author makes the point that we no longer need to speculate on the public health value of these types of laws. Based on a study published in PLOS Medicine, it is clear that taxes on sweetened beverages shift the buying public to heather alternatives. The study showed a 20% reduction in the daily calorie intake from sugary drinks. The study also showed a shift to other beverages including bottled water and milk so that there was no significant increase in the grocery bill from the tax and no notable decrease in the dollars spent at the retail level.