The amicus brief notes that a 12-ounce can of soda has more than eight teaspoons of sugar in it, and that sugar consumed in beverages covered by the tax “have led to dramatic health problems.”
“Despite the sugar industry’s effort to undermine and confuse the science, the evidence is now unequivocal: Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) can increase risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and other health problems plaguing Philadelphia and the country at large,” the brief stated.
The brief also states that 39 percent of all added sugar intake in the American diet comes from these drinks, according to the dietary guidelines published by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2015.
The concept of taxing SSBs to reduce consumption was discussed in an AMA Council on Science and Public Health report, that was approved by the House of Delegates in June.
“The most effective strategies for reducing consumption of SSBs appear to be restricting access in schools and potentially other settings, taxing beverages with added sugars, including warning labels on packaging, and using plain packaging,” the report states.
Taxes earmarked for early education
Tax revenues from SSBs in Philadelphia, however, were not earmarked for public health or anti-obesity efforts. A report in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice describes how local health departments’ dissemination of research findings on the potential benefits of an SSB tax played an important-but-secondary role in getting the tax approved. The decision to use tax revenue to fund early education was the reason the tax was approved after two previous proposals were defeated, according to the report.
In addition to early childhood education, the Philadelphia SSB tax revenues would funds parks and recreation and a “healthy beverage” tax credit, Bloomekatz said. She added that, even when funds are earmarked for non-health-related projects, there can be health-related benefits. She added that the AMA “is a champion of early education as an important health measure.”
Similar tax controversies are bubbling in Seattle and Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, and Bloomekatz cautioned that state and local laws can vary widely, so legal challenges will be different. In Philadelphia, for example, the question was whether the city tax was pre-empted by state law, she explained.
In Cook County, the tax covers pre-packaged beverages and not drinks made on premises, so opponents argue that it violates the Illinois Constitution’s clause mandating tax uniformity. Implementation of the tax was to begin July 1, but a judge ordered an injunction on June 30, ruling that issuing refunds would be difficult if the tax were later ruled unconstitutional.