On June 16, despite vehement opposition from the beverage industry, the City of Philadelphia adopted a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on sweetened beverages that will take effect in January 2017. A new poll by Pew, found that Philadelphians support the tax by 54 percent to 42 percent. The tax is particularly popular among young people aged 18-34. Millennials endorse the tax by a 2-1 ratio, with 64 percent in support and 31 percent in opposition. The poll also confirms that Philadelphians hold strong views on the tax. Three-quarters of supporters reported that they “strongly favor” the tax, while four-fifths of those against say that they “strongly oppose” it.
The tax has twin objectives: improving public health by discouraging consumption of sweetened beverages and raising funds for pre-kindergarten and improvements to city infrastructure. Opponents, led by an American Beverage Industry-funded front group known as Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax, claim that the tax unfairly targets the poor, hurts small businesses, and infringes on individual’s right to choose what they drink. The Pew poll shows that industry-led opposition is not resonating with most Philadelphians, especially young people. Young Philadelphians – and other supporters of the tax – appear to value public health and pre-K more than cheaper sodas, which are predicted to increase in price by up to 30 cents for a 20-ounce drink.
Another possible reason behind Philadelphians’ support for the tax is that less and less Americans are drinking sodas. Since the 1980s, regular soda sales have decreased by more than 25 percent. This means that less Americans will directly experience the tax’s economic impact, one of the possible bases for opposition. People reducing soda consumption to improve their own health may also support the tax for its capacity to help others reduce consumption.
Interestingly, US adults aged 18-34 report drinking regular soda at a higher rate than older Americans. In 2012, 24.5 percent of US adults aged 18-34 reported drinking regular soda at least once a day, compared to 17 percent of all US adults. The fact that the tax is most popular among those that drink the most soda suggest that young people’s support for Philadelphia’s soda tax could relate to their own desire to reduce consumption.
Whatever their reasons, Philadelphians, particularly young people, support their city’s efforts to reduce soda consumption and improve community programs and infrastructure. On November 4, voters in San Francisco, Oakland, Albany (CA) and Boulder (CO) will vote on similar taxes. Stay tuned to see whether the public enthusiasm and political will witnessed in Philadelphia and Berkeley, CA, will be replicated across the country.