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Philly’s sweetened beverage tax brings hope | Opinion

Don’t fall prey to the propaganda of the beverage industry.

Bottles of Coca-Cola soda wait to be loaded at the Swire Coca-Cola distribution facility in Draper, Utah.
Bottles of Coca-Cola soda wait to be loaded at the Swire Coca-Cola distribution facility in Draper, Utah.Read moreGeorge Frey / Bloomberg File

After witnessing the beverage industry’s anti-tax efforts in Harrisburg and in other states across the country, and reading recent local commentary that was critical of Philadelphia’s sweetened beverage tax, I believe it is important to share the actual benefits, hope, and opportunities the tax brings to communities.

My organization, The Food Trust, has been working for many years to bring grocery stores and jobs to communities that need them the most, to support corner store owners in selling healthier items like water instead of soda, and to help people understand how to make healthier choices.

The beverage industry makes billions of dollars by selling products that have little to no nutritional value and increase the rates of obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses. In 2015, one of three adults in Philadelphia was obese and as a result more likely to develop chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. And, diabetes is more common among African Americans than other groups, with nearly one of five having diabetes.

It should come as no surprise that African American and Hispanic youth consume more soda. The beverage industry has historically and disproportionately marketed soda instead of healthier products like 100 percent juice or water to African-American and Hispanic youth. The beverage industry also continues to spend millions of dollars to lobby and sway the court of public opinion against sweetened beverage taxes, with surrogates often repeating messages that are simply not accurate.

Despite what have become industry talking points, the tax has not hurt sales or jobs. In fact, wage tax collections in the sector of the Philadelphia economy most directly affected by the tax (including grocery stores and restaurants) actually increased slightly. And despite what the industry says, unsweetened almond milk is not taxed.

The sweetened beverage tax has brought in more than $125 million already for crucial programs that are already making a difference to so many in our city. Through the tax, more than 4,000 young children have received quality pre-K at no cost to their families, with many parents and caregivers saying they’ve been able to find work, increase their hours, and/or pursue further education because of the PHLpreK program; the first round of Rebuild is set to lead to improvements to 64 parks, recreation centers, and libraries throughout the city, mostly in high-need areas; and the City’s 12 Community Schools, buoyed by extra funding from the soda tax, are serving students, families, and community members’ unique needs -- such as expanding adult education, healthy cooking skills, and more.

The sweetened beverage tax is bringing huge benefits to the city of Philadelphia and all who live here. Don’t fall prey to the propaganda of the beverage industry. Look at the facts and not the spin. And ask your elected officials to reject efforts to preempt or repeal the Philadelphia beverage tax and take the power and resources away from the city of Philadelphia to solve its own problems.

Dwayne Wharton serves as the Director of External Affairs for The Food Trust and is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader.