Mark My Words: Sugar high

The Philadelphia soda tax is a local story, but it's also one that is playing out nationally. And, if you haven't already begun to pay attention to it, you should.

At the center is the issue of taxing soda and other drinks with high-sugar content. Opponents in the beverage industry argue that this tax hits low-income communities the hardest, but what isn't being said is that the beverage industry has been causing harm to low-income communities long before any talk of a tax proposal.

We're talking about name brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. It just might be that their products and marketing, along with our willing consumption, have caused many of us to become addicted to sugar. But let's stay on the financial end of this; we'll get to health ramifications later.

A year ago, a 2-liter Coke or Pepsi could be bought in your local supermarket for $1.69. Today it's about $1.99 (thought opponents of the tax use $1.79 in a television commercial). Compare that with Wegmans or other independent supermarkets that sell their own similar brands; those same flavors are priced at 89 cents. Yes, almost the same product (though Coke and Pepsi will state different) yet a whopping $1.10 cheaper. Gee, that extra-secret ingredient that Coke and Pepsi put in their cola must be gold. 

That extra $1.10 they are charging the poor is almost a usury tax, since in poor neighborhoods it's difficult to find independent supermarkets - or supermarkets at all - and the large beverage producers incentivize the small grocery stores to carry only their brands. It's called product placement, also known as buying shelf space, which leaves independent beverage producers out of the store and low-income communities captive to Coke or Pepsi, their only option. 

As to that health issue that the beverage industry doesn't mention in their advertising, high-sugar beverages can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as other health issues. Guess who will pay for those medical bills: taxpayers. So, in a way, we taxpayers are not only allowing these corporations to make a huge profit, but the corporations are also leaving us with the additional costs of treating the various health issues that come from lifelong consumption of their products.

So, back to that tax.

If it gets people to cross the city line and go to an independent supermarket to save $1.10, that's good competition. Maybe Coke and Pepsi will lower their outrageously priced products. They're certainly welcome to whatever profit they get, but business is competitive.

If we can stop even a few from drinking these excessive sugary drinks and use the tax to create better and safer places for children in poor neighborhoods, that's a double win. And, if it leads to a little inter-product competition, a triple win.

One last point. The last national health battle against a consumer product was cigarettes. The same lines were used. That battle had the right effect, and I believe we as a nation are, in hindsight, are proud we stood up to those corporations that were giving us false information to bolster their unhealthy products. Those cigarette companies adjusted, as all companies must, when the market changes. I'm sure that Coke and Pepsi will do so as well.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at or Twitter at  His best selling memoir "And Then I Danced," is available on, Barnes & Noble or your favorite bookseller.

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