Philadelphia's mayor proposes the highest soda tax in the US, but not to improve health

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Sugar Soda Tax - A Good Idea or Not

Five years ago, then-Philadelphia city council member Jim Kenney opposed the idea of imposing a soda tax to fight childhood obesity in his city. But now, as mayor, he's angling to institute the highest soda tax in the nation.

What prompted the reversal? He's doing it for the money, not to improve public health.

Kenney's new city budget taxes soda at $0.03 an ounce, according to a report by the New York Times. The policy would make a 20-ounce bottle of soda $0.60 more expensive, effectively doubling the cost of some drinks. He estimates that the more-than-$400 million that could be raised via the tax in the next half decade would fund universal preschool and allow the city to renovate a variety of its most vital public venues.

Read more: Mexico Just Showed the World How to Fight Obesity and Diabetes — And We Should Listen

As far as soda tax proposals go, it seems like a long shot. Time and time again, significantly smaller ones have been shot down across the country. The only city to have successfully passed one in the United States thus far is Berkeley, California.

Philadelphia's Mayor Proposes the Highest Soda Tax in the U.S., But Not to Improve Health
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In his original opposition to a soda tax, Kenney cited one of the chief reasons that soda taxes struggle to gain traction — Americans don't respond well to the idea of paternalism in the tax code. High taxes with moral subtexts are already common for alcohol and cigarettes, but it remains difficult to get entire communities on board with the idea of a tax designed to discourage people from purchasing sugary drinks.

But Kenney's campaign for the new soda tax isn't a health crusade. It's based on the idea that a soda tax is just an untapped source of revenue that justifies the end of funding a much-needed education program. In his public arguments for the tax, he's "not using the word obesity, or suggesting that people should drink less soda," reports the Times.

Regardless of how he's presenting the soda tax, if it passes, there is a good chance it could reshape consumption trends and health. Mexico's experiment with a very hefty tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages since 2014 has contributed to a 12% drop in the their purchase and a modest rise in the sales of bottled water.

Should Kenney manage to get his soda tax passed, the moral of the story might be that it's best to avoid telling citizens what's good for them and instead package it as a way to deliver what's best for the community.

Related: Learn about San Francisco's soda warning labels:

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Soda warning labels, San Francisco, California
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Philadelphia's mayor proposes the highest soda tax in the US, but not to improve health
A shelf of soft drinks are shown in a refrigerator at K & D Market in San Francisco, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. A tax on sodas and other sugar-laden drinks that voters and courts in other parts of the country have rejected is on the November ballots in San Francisco and Berkeley, two cities that have been open to such social-engineering initiatives in the past. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Health advocates hold signs during a rally in favor of a soda tax at San Francisco City Hall on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A woman shops down an aisle for frozen foods, sodas and other sugary drinks at a supermarket in Monterey Park, California on June 18, 2014, a day after a bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have had to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay and the legislation, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, passed the state Senate in May, but on it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly on June 17, the Los Angeles Times reported. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Health advocates hold signs during a rally in favor of a soda tax at San Francisco City Hall on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22: Bottles of Pepsi are displayed in a food truck's cooler on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A woman shops for food items near a display of bottes of soda at a superrmarket in Rosemead, California on June 18, 2014, a day after a bill in California that would require soft drinks to have health warning labels failed to clear a key committee. Under the measure, sugary drinks sold in the most populous US state would have had to carry a label with a warning that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay and the legislation, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, passed the state Senate in May, but on it failed to win enough votes in the health commission of the California State Assembly on June 17, the Los Angeles Times reported. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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