Philadelphia becomes 1st major American city with soda tax

FILE – Opponents of a proposed sugary drink tax demonstrate outside City Hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is set to become the first major American city with a soda tax despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it. The City Council is expected to give final approval Thursday, June 16, 2016, to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 8, 2016 | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File, St. George News

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia became the first major American city with a soda tax on Thursday despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it.

The City Council gave final approval to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages.

Only Berkeley, California, had a similar law. Soda tax proposals have failed in more than 30 cities and states in recent years. Such plans are typically criticized as disproportionately affecting the poor, who are more likely to consume sugary drinks.

FILE –Opponents of a proposed sugary drink tax demonstrate outside City Hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is set to become the first major American city with a soda tax despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it. The City Council is expected to give final approval Thursday, June 16, 2016, to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 8, 2016 | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File, St. George News
FILE –Opponents of a proposed sugary drink tax demonstrate outside City Hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is set to become the first major American city with a soda tax despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it. The City Council is expected to give final approval Thursday, June 16, 2016, to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 8, 2016 | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File, St. George News

But Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney sold the council on the idea with a plan to spend most of the estimated $90 million in new tax revenue next year to pay for prekindergarten, community schools and recreation centers.

“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,” the mayor said after the vote.

The tax, which passed 13-4, is a hard-fought win for the city. The soda industry spent millions of dollars in advertising against the proposal, arguing that the tax would be costly to consumers.

The tax will be levied on distributors. If they pass it entirely on to consumers, a six-pack of 16-ounce bottles, for example, would go up $1.44.

The plan also attracted national attention and dollars, with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold, advocates for less consumption of sugary drinks, funding ads in support.

Immediately after the vote, beverage bottling businessman Harold Honickman promised to fight the tax in court.

“I’d love to start a case tomorrow,” he said, noting he could file a lawsuit as soon as this weekend.

Honickman spent an estimated $1.7 million fighting the tax. He said the tax would mean sales will go down and jobs will be lost.

Teamsters Local 830 secretary-treasurer Daniel Grace agreed a legal battle is ahead.

“We offered alternatives, and they didn’t want to listen,” Grace said.

Many communities where soda tax proposals have failed sought it as a way to discourage consumers from buying sugary beverages for health reasons.

Audience members cheer after Philadelphia City Council passed a tax on sugary and diet beverages, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has become the first major American city with a soda tax despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 16, 2016 | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File, St. George News
Audience members cheer after Philadelphia City Council passed a tax on sugary and diet beverages, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has become the first major American city with a soda tax despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 16, 2016 | AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File, St. George News

The case could certainly be made for a healthier Philadelphia, where more than 68 percent of adults and 41 percent of children are overweight or obese. But Kenney focused on public interest over public health in making the argument to tax sugary drinks.

He said last week that Americans generally reject other people telling them what’s healthy for them, so his administration tried to stay away from that. He said any health benefits coming from the tax are just a bonus.

The tax won’t start getting collected until Jan. 1, but it will enter into the fiscal budget July 1.

Some of the money raised by the tax will go to pay for city employee benefits and pet projects of council members and to build up municipal provide budget reserves.

Groups of pre-K students clustered outside City Hall on Thursday doing geyser experiments with soda and Mentos, and they gathered in the hallway near chambers with headbands reading “Pre-K rocks!”

The No Philly Grocery Tax group had a big display on the plaza with stacks of drinks and graphs showing how much consumers would pay if the tax passed.

Written by NATALIE POMPILIO, Associated Press

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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10 Comments

  • ladybugavenger June 16, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    This is unamerican!

    • .... June 17, 2016 at 10:24 am

      Hey ladybug it’s totally un-American let’s head to Boston and have a tea party LOL !

  • hiker75 June 17, 2016 at 8:02 am

    I think it is great since sugar has the same addictive properties as other drugs like cocaine. Food corportations are adding it to more products and upping the amount! Just to get us addicted to the product. Cocaine was added to the original colas. Now they just use sugar.

    • ladybugavenger June 17, 2016 at 9:18 am

      I wonder what that was like when cocaine was put in coke? Did it taste the same? Were people calm? Did anyone hear stories from people who drank it? Amazing how it went from putting cocaine in coke to a war on drugs.

      A lot of sugar is definitely bad. It’s called a sugar rush, and probably the first high kids get.

      But I like a cold coke in a can.

      Are you recommending a sugar tax? Should we make sugar illegal?

    • .... June 17, 2016 at 10:26 am

      hiker. .yep people are addicted and don’t have a clue !

      • Bob June 17, 2016 at 2:20 pm

        Dumpster, tell us which is more addictive, your pills or suger?

      • ladybugavenger June 17, 2016 at 4:45 pm

        I like the rush

  • .... June 18, 2016 at 8:55 am

    I like snorting air. .anybody up for a air tax ? LOL !

    • ladybugavenger June 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm

      It will cost you more to snort the smog

      • .... June 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm

        Good smog ain’t cheap ! LOL

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