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Philadelphia Becomes First Major U.S. City with Soda Tax

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This week, Philadelphia became the first major American city to implement a so-called "soda tax." Despite the beverage industry's multimillion dollar campaign to stop the initiative, the new tax goes into effect January 1. The goal of the tax is to dissuade soda purchases and encourage healthier choices in a city where more than half of adults and nearly half of all children are either overweight or obese.

Yesterday, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to pass a soda tax. The new tax will go into place January 1 and will add an additional 1.5-cents-per-ounce to any sugar-added and artificially sweetened soft drinks.

A two-liter bottle and a six-pack of soda will each cost about $1 more after the tax is in place. The tax excludes beverages that are more than 50 percent fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, or milk. Additionally, beverages that allow customers to add sweetener themselves, for example coffee, will not be taxed. This means that sport drinks, flavored waters, bottled coffees, and sweetened teas are all included in the so-called "soda tax."

The revenue raised from this tax, estimated at $91 million annually, will be spent on prekindergarten programs, schools, libraries, recreation centers, and other public spaces. The tax will also fund a tax credit for businesses that sell healthy beverages.

Despite the American Beverage Association’s costly advertising campaign aimed at preventing this tax, the Philadelphia City Council voted 13-4 in favor of approving it. Opponents of the tax argue that it will lead to job losses in the beverage industry and that the poor will be affected disproportionately.

Sweetened beverages, including soda, may contribute to both obesity and diabetes. This new tax aims to dissuade consumers from spending the extra money on these detrimental drinks while using the additional revenue on community facilities and youth education. In particular, the goal is to help foster a healthier population in a city where more than 68 percent of adults and 41 percent of children are either overweight or obese.

Photo: Simon Murrell/Getty Images

In 2014, Berkeley, Calif., became the first American city to pass a soda tax. Philadelphia joins the ranks as the first major American city with this tax aimed at reducing soda consumption. Other cities, including San Francisco and Boulder, Colo., are considering similar legislation, but none have passed yet.

Public health officials and politicians from across the country will be keeping an eye on Philadelphia as they pave the way for the rising movement of taxing sugary beverages. Whether the tax will affect consumption and rates of disease can only be determined once the tax is in practice, so we, too, will be watching to see the impact this measure has on the community.

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