The City Council in Philadelphia approved on June 16 a new regulation that allows a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, making it the first major city in the United States to do so.

Officials voted 13-4 in favor of the new regulation, which is expected to raise $91 million every year and allocate funds for projects designed to improve the city's public school system.

The projects include pre-kindergarten expansion, the development of community schools, plus an investment in parks and recreation centers.

The soda tax will hit thousands of products that are bottled, canned or from a fountain with artificial sweetener or sugar added. Drinks exempt from the soda tax are those with 50 percent fruit juice, milk or vegetable juice. Tax will be collected beginning Jan. 1.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says the city's historic investment in its education system and its neighborhoods are all thanks to the advocacy of parents, educators and recreation center volunteers.

But critics aren't so pleased.

The beverage industry has vowed to fight for the repeal the approval of the new soda tax. Some even say that the new regulation will disproportionately affect the poor.

The Case Against Philly's Soda Tax

The advocacy group known as Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax says the City Council ignored the voices of 58 percent of residents who oppose the "discriminatory large tax" on more than a thousand everyday grocery items.

"This tax is unconstitutional," the group told USA Today. "That's why we will take this fight to the courts."

The American Beverage Association (ABA), a group that represents companies such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola, says the soda tax is a regressive tax that "unfairly singles out beverages."

Both organizations will take legal action to stop the soda tax. The ABA said similar proposals have been rejected 43 times across the U.S. in the past eight years.

Supporters Of The New Soda Tax

Lauren Hitt, communications director for Mayor Kenney's office, says they are "fully prepared for any legal challenges."

Indeed, supporters of the new tax say the victory in Philly could set the stage for similar approvals in cities all over the country.

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, says Philadelphia will "certainly not be the last city" to adopt the soda tax.

He says the question is not whether any U.S. city will adopt its own regulation, but rather, how many and how quickly? He adds that no other policy takes direct aim at both obesity and poverty than Philly's soda tax.

Photo: Rex Sorgatz | Flickr

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