Don’t Like the Soda Tax? Drink Water!

With the new sweetened-beverage tariff finally in effect, Philadelphians are doing what they do best: complain.

Photo by Radu Bercan/iStock

Photo by Radu Bercan/iStock

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to your social media feeds in Philadelphia over these first few days of 2017, you are no doubt aware that the world is coming to an end. Life as we know it is over. Our core values of freedom, liberty, and — what was that other thing? — oh yeah, the pursuit of happiness? Pfft. Good luck ever finding those again. And why? The dreaded Soda Tax, of course!

Known more formally as the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, this new tariff went into effect on January 1st after Mayor Jim Kenney waged and miraculously won a hard-fought battle against Big Soda. Lobbyists and other special interests attached to the beverage industry spent more than $10 million to defeat the tax, and they lost. And then they spent even more with a feeble attempt to sue the city into killing the tax. They lost that, too.

The vote to approve the tax took place way back in June. Well, apparently, most Philadelphians don’t read the news anymore, because folks seem downright blindsided.

Since New Year’s morning, residents have been showing up at local supermarkets, bodegas, and Wawas Instagramming their outrage over the $0.015-per-ounce surcharge the city has imposed on all sweetened beverages purchased within city limits. Never mind that the whole point of the tax is to raise money for our beleaguered schools.

What? You want me to pay 18 cents more for a can of Mountain Dew just so junior can have his own schoolbook?

The nerve!

Where were all these people when the city was considering the tax? How many of them showed up to offer public comments during City Council sessions? How many of them emailed their legislators before the vote? But now that they’re paying more for their Lipton Sweet Tea, all hell breaks loose.

One of my favorite Facebook comments comes from former Republican state Senate candidate Ross Feinberg, who went all Philadelphia on Mayor Kenney and those City Council members who voted in favor of the tax, calling them “real pieces of crap!”

Nice, Ross.

He went on to admonish our legislators for allowing the tax to include not just things like Coke and Arctic Splash but also orange juice, which he describes as “an essential nutritional drink for our children.”

First off, “100 percent juice” drinks are exempted from the tax. But orange juice or any juice — whether 100 percent or not — is in no way, shape, or form an “essential” beverage. That thinking is dated, like lobotomies.

If you ask your kid’s doctor what they should drink, they will tell you water and milk. In my house — my kids are 9 and 10 — I can count on two hands the number of times we’ve had anything but water and milk in the house for them, save for the obligatory “birthday treat” of “100 percent juice” juice boxes at their parties, and even then, they each get one box. Cruel, I know.

Besides, from what I’ve observed, Philly kids aren’t exactly going through cases of orange juice.

Literally every time I take the trolley or Market-Frankford El to work in the morning, I see some kid throwing back a Pepsi or some barrel-shaped purple beverage thing.

And I’m not just talking teenagers. I’m talking toddlers. Sucking down the sickly sweet stuff while mom or dad sits right next to them.

Is it any wonder that some sections of our city have childhood obesity rates nearly double the national average? And that’s without even getting into a discussion about childhood diabetes. Can you imagine what their dental bills are like? But that’s what happens when you allow an industry like Big Soda to target inner cities for decades, unchecked.

Oh, there are some problems now that the new tax has gone into effect. Apparently, some retailers are gouging customers well above the $0.015-per-ounce tax while also imposing a surcharge on items that are not beverages at all. (Hands off my hot sauce, you bastards!) And, naturally, there’s always the danger that the city will misappropriate the funds it collects. If that happens, we’ll be the first to stand up and start screaming.

But in the meantime, if you don’t like the soda tax, I’ve got one piece of advice for you: Drink water. We’ve got some of the best in the country.