The Philadelphia City Council Thursday approved a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages, the first such tax imposed in a major U.S. city, with the intent of raising millions for expanding childhood education initiatives. The win comes despite the beverage industry investing millions to campaign against the proposed hike.
Approved via a 13-4 vote, the tax increase will raise revenue to help fund pre-K expansion, community schools, and reinvestment in parks and recreation centers, the city council said. It also will help pad the city’s general fund.
Initially proposed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney as a 3-cents-per-ounce tax hike, the increase was halved by a majority consensus, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke noted on June 8, and will raise approximately $91 million over the next year. Additionally, Council Majority Whip Blondell Reynolds Brown’s bill offering tax credits to merchants that opt to sell healthful beverage in their stores received advancement.
“Thanks to the tireless advocacy of educators, parents, rec center volunteers and so many others, Philadelphia made a historic investment in our neighborhoods and in our education system today,” said Kenney. “I commend city council for working with these community leaders to make quality, affordable pre-K community schools and systemic improvements to parks, rec centers and libraries a reality. I also thank my colleagues in council for working with our administration to craft a shared agenda that will improve the education, health and prosperity of children and families all across our city for years to come.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) praised the final vote, urging governors and mayors struggling with budgets and the high costs of chronic diseases to consider similar taxes to fund health programs in their communities.
“The American Heart Association is proud to stand side by side with the people of Philadelphia as they become the first city in our nation to pass a tax on sugary drinks by vote of a city council,” said AHA CEO Nancy Brown. “As the fifth-largest city in the nation, Philadelphia’s exemplary public health leadership provides an inspiring example for other cities from coast to coast.”
However, the American Beverage Association criticized the decision.
"We have all heard the phrase 'everything in moderation,' and it holds true when it comes to making choices about the foods and beverages we consume," it said. "Our companies are committed to ensuring that there are plenty of options, including low- and no-calorie products and waters, that can help people balance out their calories. The government shouldn’t be focused on demonizing certain products. We should be working together to ensure we are providing consumers the information and choices they need to make the decisions that best fit their diet."