August 13, 2019-
When the mayor of Philadelphia unveiled his battle plan against sugary sodas, it looked like he was riding a national wave. The year was 2016, and one city after another was trying to fight obesity by nudging their citizens away from cheap, high-calorie drinks. In a speech to the City Council unveiling his first budget, Mayor Jim Kenney declared his plan to pay for a host of city initiatives with a new tax on every ounce of soda. “This was a fight we thought was worth having,” said James Engler, Kenney’s chief of staff.
For a decade, concern had been rising in the public health world that soda’s superfluous calories were fueling an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, and supporters in Philadelphia and elsewhere embraced local taxes as a win-win—a way to encourage healthier choices while also generating some new money to help communities with high obesity rates. In California, Berkeley had passed a soda tax in 2014. Oakland, Boulder and Chicago would soon take up their own laws.