Taxes on soda regressive, won't improve public health
© Getty Images

In recent weeks the city of Philadelphia attracted media attention by passing a regressive excise tax that will raise the price of almost every product in the beverage aisle. Not only is the tax against the law and likely to be overturned in court according to a former Pennsylvania chief justice, the majority of Philadelphians oppose it.  

Americans still loathe discriminatory taxes that single out certain items in the grocery cart and the debate in Philadelphia underscored this. Poll results released the week of the City Council’s vote showed that nearly 60 percent of Philadelphians opposed the tax. If the tax were a referendum decided by the people, instead of by just 17 city councilors, it would have failed.


National polls have yielded similar results to Philadelphia. A Harris poll found that 62 percent of Americans oppose soda taxes. The track record for soda taxes bears out these poll results – soda tax proposals have been rejected 43 times in cities and states across the country since 2008.

The reason for this is simple. People recognize soda taxes for what they are: a government money grab that is borne on the backs of the poorest Americans, costing jobs and harming small businesses. These taxes raise grocery bills on everyone but the hardest hit are low income families who must spend a greater share of their income to pay for the tax. This is why Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Sunrise Movement endorses Nina Turner in special election for Ohio House seat The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Israel-Hamas carnage worsens; Dems face SALT dilemma MORE spoke out against the Philadelphia tax, saying, “A tax on soda and juice drinks would disproportionately increase taxes on low-income families in Philadelphia.”

People also know that a tax on any item on their grocery list is a slippery slope. This time it may be soda, but what’s next?

One of the arguments in favor of taxing soda is that a tax will make people healthier, but the facts show us these taxes do nothing to improve public health. Why? Because no single source of calories is responsible for the rise we have seen in obesity. Federal government data from the CDC shows obesity has been going up steadily for years even though soda consumption has been going down steadily.  It defies logic to say soda is causing the nation’s obesity epidemic when the less we drink the more obese we get.

Science tells us that obesity and obesity-related conditions such as diabetes have multiple risk factors that include genetics, a lack of physical activity and the overconsumption of calories from any source. Suggesting that eliminating one source of calories is the panacea to reducing obesity is misleading and unfair to people who are trying achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Public health issues like obesity require big picture solutions that look at the entire diet, not politically expedient Band-Aid responses that target one product. The latest Dietary Guidelines from the federal government back this up and advise Americans to focus on the total diet and overall calorie intake versus cutting out one source of calories.

People are best able to achieve and maintain a balanced diet and lifestyle when they are empowered with information to help them make educated decisions. America’s beverage companies are doing their part to give people the tools to do just that. We are providing consumers with more choices, smaller portion sizes and fewer calories than ever before. And these ferocious competitors are putting competition aside and working together on a bold, unprecedented initiative to cut calories and sugar intake in the American diet. The Balance Calories Initiative, supported by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, will have a real and meaningful impact on communities across the nation.

America’s beverage companies have been part of the fabric of hometowns across America for more than 100 years. We generously support local initiatives in our communities, provide good paying jobs to nearly 240,000 Americans and are among the first to step up to provide assistance in times of need. We have a direct economic impact of $169.1 billion, but our industry indirectly supports thousands of jobs in other businesses large and small like restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and movie theaters.

Our iconic beverage companies are at the forefront of offering bold solutions to some of the most pressing challenges of the day. From our Balance Calories Initiative to partnerships with groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors, we are demonstrating that collaboration and education are the better way forward. We invite policymakers, public health officials and other stakeholders to join us as we work toward achieving real solutions. 

Susan Neely is president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing the broad spectrum of companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the United States.