The biggest sugar drink battle since Coke vs. Pepsi
Soda is getting the Democratic presidential nominees all amped up—and it’s got nothing to do with sugar highs. Hillary Clinton is supporting a soda tax in Philadelphia that Bernie Sanders has come out against, shocking some who believe he is the more progressive, anti-corporate option. Sanders’s reasoning, though, is quite progressive: To tax soda would disproportionately hit the low-income people who consume more of it.
A 2013 Gallup poll resulted in the finding that regular soda drinkers are young, non-white and low income. The tax of 3 cents per ounce would be on distributors rather than consumers, though this would surely lead to an eventual retail increase to offset the new corporate tax. For now, effects on public health are unclear right now. A similar tax implemented in Mexico resulted in decreased soda consumption, according to Newsweek, but people simply replaced the calories with something else.
Mayor Jim Kenney is pushing some non-health-based reasons for Philadelphia’s soda-specific fees, such as funding for universal pre-K education. In Sanders’ view, that would be better funded by taxes on the wealthy. “You have large multinational corporations not paying a nickel in federal taxes. That’s where you get the money,” he told Meet the Press. “Somebody’s making $20,000 a year and they buy a bottle of soda, I don’t think you charge them $0.30 more for that bottle of soda.”
This certainly isn’t the first time municipalities have wrangled over soda taxes. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to get one passed in 2010 to no avail, but the uber-liberal city of Berkeley, California, implemented one in 2014. Berkeley resident and former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman fully endorses the idea, saying on Twitter that, “a regressive tax on poison is a good thing,” which sounds like a terribly stereotypical thing for a not-broke, coastal-dwelling liberal white person to say—even if soda is objectively terrible for you (cheers!).
A year after that soda tax passed, The Mercury News looked into its mixed effects. It brings money into the city’s coffers, but bargain sodas are still readily available at larger outlets to the competitive disadvantage of local businesses. “The ability of some larger retailers to swallow the extra cost and offer bargain prices gives them a competitive advantage over smaller outlets,” they reported. “Owners of neighborhood convenience and grocery stores complain that, unlike chain stores, they cannot afford to absorb the tax.”
Regardless of whether this tax passes, soda consumption continues to drop. In 2015, per capita consumption was the lowest it’s been since 1985, meaning this revenue source would gradually disappear anyway. To sum it up, soda taxes have dubious results, but people are quitting Coke naturally. Bring on the next election controversy, because surely these candidates can find something more juicy to argue over than an extra 30 cents on the price of fizzy drinks.