August 25, 2016
When Mayor Jim Kenney was pitching his proposed "soda tax" to Philadelphians, his strategy was clear. Sell them on what it pays for — universal pre-Kindergarten, parks and recreation, police body cameras — and not the health benefits of making sugary beverages more expensive.
The approach was a departure from other cities where attempts at passing soda taxes have tried and failed. Yes, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg did promote his proposed penny-per-ounce tithe as a way to stop potential cuts in education and health care in 2010, but another big part of the logic was that it would drive down obesity.
And in Berkley, California — the first city to successfully pass such a tax — public health was also the sell, as the hope was by making sweet teas, sodas and energy drinks pricier, there would be a decline in obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Well, according to a new study, the first part of that equation — getting people to drink less sugary drinks — has worked.
The UC Berkeley researchers behind the study, published in the American Public Health Journal on Tuesday, found that in low-income Berkeley neighborhoods, reported consumption of soda and other sugary beverages dropped by 21 percent since the tax passed in March 2015. Meanwhile, in neighboring San Francisco and Oakland, where a similar measure was defeated, consumption jumped by 4 percent.
An increase in Berkeley's water consumption was also discovered by the researchers. Per the UC Berkeley release:
...Berkeley residents surveyed for the study reported a 63 percent increase in drinking bottled or tap water while their Oakland and San Francisco counterparts reported only a 19 percent rise in water consumption. Only 2 percent of the Berkeley residents polled reported that the tax led them to shop for sugary drinks in neighboring cities that do not have a soda tax.
Whether the tax in Philly (1.5 cents-per-ounce) has similar impacts remains to be seen, as it doesn't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017. The New York Times noted that the sugary drink consumption and poverty are both more prevalent in Philly than in Berkeley, meaning the impact could be more drastic. A Harvard study earlier this year said the tax would prevent approximately 36,000 cases of obesity and save $197 million by 2025.
Critics have said that residents who can will cross county lines to the suburbs to purchase drinks impacted by the tax, and said it will most adversely affect low-income families, who tend to buy more soda and sugary drinks.