By Angeli Thomas
I was waiting in line to check out at a Walgreens while balancing a loaf of bread, a jar of marinara sauce and cheese slices on my knee. I was planning on making my go-to dinner meal that night: pizza grilled cheese sandwiches. I peered to the front of the line to see what was taking so long. “Why do I have to pay the price and three-quarters for my energy drinks? Let me talk to your manager!” he shouted to the poor cashier. He stood there holding up the eight-pack of Gatorade as if he were ready to toss it in rage. The soda tax in Philadelphia has been making others also want to toss something at lawmakers. The man I saw at the grocery store was telling no lie, and in fact, he angrily paid $9.06 with sales tax, for a $5.99 drink.
The soda tax, signed by Mayor Kenney, was put into full effect this Jan. 1. Mayor Kenney has been a huge advocate for early childhood learning and universal pre-school during his campaigning in 2015, and this tax gave him a jumpstart to seal that deal for the voters. The tax affects all “sugary beverages.” It was thought to affect just soda, but it expands into purchases of sports drinks, energy drinks and juices, too. Drinks like Gatorade, which contain electrolytes to replenish our body with the liquids we lose through sweat or vomiting, are under the provisions of this soda tax.
Some even called the aim of the tax “deceiving” because 20 percent of the revenue is set to fund “other” city programs. Kenney did not mention this at first, as he carried this proposition to the city. Originally, he said that the revenue would go toward mainly pre-K, parks and recreation, and rebuilding old schools. In truth, only 73 percent was going toward these programs. It was found later that these “other” programs would involve employee benefits, community colleges and “City Commissioners — presidential election.” Seems harmless, but it sounds like there was a misconception of the mayor’s whole agenda. Only a mere 1 percent of the revenue is going to support the sales of healthier drinks. It seems that in reality, health concerns and universal pre-K make up only a fraction of the total spending; yet it was so highlighted during the proposal.
If this was a concern about health issues, can we really put soda on the same level as cigarettes? Currently, cigarettes fall under sin taxes and in the state of Pennsylvania, there is a tax of $2.60 per 20 pack. There is conclusive science that proves the nicotine in tobacco is addicting and that smoking cigarettes can lead to lung cancer. Therefore, tobacco falls under a sin tax because it proves to be harmful to society. Soda and sugary beverages, on the other hand, can be safe with proper and moderate use. Drinking soda at a party or occasionally with a meal will not cause someone to be addicted nor would it induce diabetes.
Aiming to help people make healthier choices, Mayor Kenney did not clearly think about the instincts of those who have a sweet tooth. The tax creates a band of clever people who know how to get around the extra dollars. Lower Moreland Township and other townships close to Northeast Philadelphia that are not included in the tax have drawn in shoppers for their cheap sugary beverages. This, in turn, hurts small businesses, which Philadelphia is a harbor for, that are desperately trying to keep open. Mayor Kenney failed to realize that those who drink beverages such as these will find a way to keep that sugar flowing through their bloodstreams. Pre-K and early childhood learning should be our top priority, but heavily taxing a drink is not the way to go. A tax will not make people make healthier choices; people make healthier choices. ••
Angeli Thomas lives in Bustleton.