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Lifestyles

Will tax on sugary drinks make us healthier or just poorer?

Posted June 23

In an effort to curb consumption, Philadelphia will levy a new tax on sugary and artificially sweetened drinks. But will the tax make people healthier or just poorer? (Deseret Photo)

If the beverage tastes sweet and comes in a can or a bottle, it will cost more in Philadelphia come January when a new tax on sugary and artificially sweetened drinks goes into effect.

The so-called “soda tax” is 1.5 cents per ounce and will affect everything from Diet Coke to Gatorade to a Starbucks Frappuccino — “anything bottled, canned or from a fountain with either sugar or artificial sweetener added, save for a few exceptions,” Philly.com reported.

One of those exceptions is fruit juice, unless the beverage contains less than 50 percent juice.

The tax is on distributors, not consumers, but analysts say consumers will be picking up the tab — which will amount to 18 cents for a 12-ounce can, $1 for a two-liter container, and $2.16 for a 12-pack. That is, assuming the tax holds up in court.

The beverage industry has promised to fight a "regressive tax that unfairly singles out beverages, including low- and no-calorie choices," and it has prevailed elsewhere. Similar measures have been defeated in New York City, San Francisco and Massachusetts.

But now that the Philadelphia City Council has passed a measure that NPR's Allison Aubrey called historic, other cities could follow, and they will be cheered by health officials who have been trying to curb consumption of beverages with little to no nutritional value, while at the same time, trying to get Americans to cut down on sugar.

The dietary guidelines released in January said added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of the total calories a person consumes.

Most Americans consume more than twice the recommended amount, and soft drinks represent a lot of that sugar, even though sales have declined for the past decade and are at a 30-year low, according to Fortune magazine.

The industry has been throttled by the popularity of bottled water, as well as studies that say frequent consumption of diet sodas can raise the risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. (Bizarrely, diet sodas even have been linked to long-term weight gain.)

Still 17 percent of us pop the top on what the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls "liquid candy" at least once a day. And when you count not just soft drinks, but other drinks with added sugars — to include sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sweetened tea — more than half of us have at least one every day, according to the CDC.

So a tax on sugary and artificially sweetened beverages stands to bring in a lot of new tax dollars for Philadelphia — more than $400 million is projected over the next five years, money that will go toward pre-K education and city parks. That's the reason the City Council enacted the tax, not concern for the citizenry's health.

But there is evidence that improved health may be a side effect.

After Mexico enacted a soda tax in January of 2014, consumption had dropped 12 percent by December, NPR said. Even discussion about a soda tax seems to reduce intake, too.

After a prolonged debate on a soda tax that ultimately fizzled, the number of Vermont residents who said they drank sugary drinks fell from nearly 50 percent to 18.9 percent, Politico reported.

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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