A group including the American Heart Association, the African-American Chamber of Commerce and the City of Berkeley, filed a brief in support of the Philadelphia’s beverage tax.
Fifteen health organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in hopes that the beverage industry’s appeal of a sugar tax will fall flat.
Philadelphia’s 1.5-cent-an-ounce tax on sweetened drinks survived a major challenge in December from the beverage industry, after a city judge dismissed the group’s lawsuit. The beverage industry filed an appeal last month.
The health groups’ brief was filed by the Public Health Law Center on behalf of the American Heart Association and 14 leading public health and medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The science-based filing outlines support for taxing sugary drinks in Philadelphia, which has some of the highest rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity among large cities.
While the tax is said to have a public health impact through reduced consumption, the AHA says the revenue raised by the tax will be used in a way that has a significant impact.
The tax will be levied on distributors, not consumers. It is expected to bring in about $91 million annually, which the city plans to use to expand pre-kindergarten programs, improve parks and offer tax credits for businesses that sell healthy beverages.
“The Philadelphia beverage tax helps us combat the city’s twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” said Thomas Farley, M.D., Philadelphia’s health commissioner. “We’re very gratified that the American Heart Association — the nation’s leading voice on heart disease and stroke — recognizes the value of the tax to the health of Philadelphia’s residents and is standing with us against this soda industry-funded lawsuit.”
The fight for public opinion on the tax has been going on for more than three years. Recently, a beverage company introduced a new argument attributing local layoffs to the tax. Some state legislators have also gotten involved in the lawsuit.
While the tax in Philadelphia includes both regular and diet beverages, the AHA has been most focused on reducing consumption of sugary drinks. Those include non-diet soft drinks and sodas, flavored juice drinks, sports drinks, sweetened tea, coffee drinks, energy drinks and electrolyte replacement drinks. Philadelphians consume on average half a liter a day — well above the Food and Drug Administration and AHA’s recommended limits for added sugars.
The brief highlights the fact that obesity is “among the most burdensome” public health issues facing the country. Obesity has been proven to reduce the length of life of people who are severely obese by five to 20 years. Sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other problems, even for those who don’t gain weight, according to the AHA.
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