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Soft drinks and the hard truth | The Triangle

Soft drinks and the hard truth

There is a lot to be said for cities actively trying to reduce the number of sugary beverages consumed by its residents. When Philadelphia took a stand back in 2016 and became the first city to enact a tax on soda, it was seen as a big step toward not only reducing soda consumption in the United States but also to boost the health of the residents of a city.

Time and time again, there are studies conflating the consumption of sugary drinks (such as sodas and fruit beverages) with less than 25 percent fruit juice leading to Type 2 diabetes, obesity and other conditions, and that includes several research analyses done by Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Profession.

Back in 2016, when Mayor Jim Kenney introduced the soda tax, he offered it in another light — as funding for a program to renovate public spaces and “refresh facilities in the neediest neighborhoods.” The program Kenney was referring to was Rebuild, with over 200 included facilities that were slated to be renovated in the 2016 pitch.

Now that it is just a few months past the soda tax’s third birthday, there isn’t much progress in the reconstruction of Philadelphia’s neediest spaces, and there isn’t a statistically significant difference in soda consumption, to the shock of absolutely nobody. 

But just how far off are the actual results from the expectation?

In terms of soda consumption, the purchase of soda in stores inside Philadelphia’s city limits did in fact decrease, but the purchase of soda in the neighboring suburbs greatly increased in attempts to avoid the tax. Philadelphia has earned over $200 million since the 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax was introduced in January of 2017. The predicted steady decrease of soda consumption by the city’s residents hasn’t happened. According to Drexel researchers, the difference in soda consumption after the tax was instituted compared to before just isn’t statistically significant compared to other cities without a soda tax implemented.

In terms of Rebuild, the number of projects finished with money raised from the soda tax hovers around 25. To rub salt into the wound, the finished projects were only smaller sized, to begin with. Only 72 projects are on the list for renovation for Rebuild now, with uncertainty regarding the future of more being added. To make it worse, 10 of those 72 project sites don’t have a contract for renovations, and many other contracts are merely for fixing emergency repairs.

That being said, Rebuild had been dealing with legal litigation until November 2018, and projects such as these are known to take multiple years to really hit their stride.

A slightly ignored topic is the effect the soda tax has on local businesses, some of whom simply can’t afford the tax for their own purchases. Citizens across Philly are still up in arms as the soda tax raised their perfect $5 transaction for a meal with a beverage from their beloved halal food carts to be raised to $6. 

The American Beverage Association has been fighting Philadelphia over the soda tax, and having spent tens of millions of dollars in this fight, it seems the soda tax is only doing more harm than good.

Of course, not every project a city attempts will work. And while Philly has been joined by many other U.S. metro areas in the fight against soda consumption, there is the question to ask in 2020: Do we, as a city, feel it is worth it to continue this fight?