When Philadelphia enacted a $2 per pack surcharge on cigarettes in 2014, I missed the hue and cry over shopkeepers losing their shirts because folks were going to the suburbs to buy smokes.
Maybe that's because years of horrible health outcomes shamed smokers and the retailers who love them into silence. Maybe I forgot about it because after a few months smokers went back to their old habits and haunts. Maybe I wasn’t paying as much attention because Phillip Morris and the like are diversified enough to have better things to do with their marketing dollars than send me press releases supporting tobacco — unlike the American Beverage Association slamming Philadelphia's Sweetened Beverage Tax.
Their narrative, and that of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, goes like this: Hundreds of layoffs loom because soda buyers are shopping across the city line. The Mayor’s Office is skeptical: “We have no way of knowing if their sales figures and predicted job losses are anything more than fear-mongering to prevent this from happening in other cities,” said spokesman Mike Dunn.
Which they should worry about. Currently Seattle and Santa Fe are looking to jump on the soda-tax bandwagon with us, Chicago and San Francisco. And Mexico. Yes, THAT Mexico, where a 10 percent national tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was introduced in 2014.
As much as we like rec centers, libraries and universal pre-K, Weavers Way (and Food Moxie) backed Philadelphia's soda tax because of its potential to reduce obesity and the chronic illnesses it entails.
The Co-op is also committed to growing the local economy. Do I worry about people losing their jobs? You bet. But I don’t believe keeping Orange Fanta cheap is the linchpin of a vital retail scene.
OK, it’s annoying that the SBT covers diet drinks — there, I said it. And I do consume a little tonic, which, no surprise, is subject to the tax. I was surprised when Norman told me it applies to sweetened soy milk and a bunch of products, like some kinds of kombucha, that are in the Co-op's wheelhouse. He explains it all in his column this month, but with a lot less attitude than I'm giving off here.
Possibly because Norman doesn't find the subject very funny either.