AMERICANS ARE addicted to sugar.
On average, we consume about 130 pounds of the stuff each year. Our daily intake - from sodas, candy, cakes and cookies - is 500 calories a day, the caloric equivalent of 10 pieces of bacon.
The American Heart Association recommends an adult male limit sugar intake to nine teaspoons a day, a female to six teaspoons. But we can blow past that by drinking one 12-ounce can of Coke, which contains 9-1/3 teaspoons.
In reality, the average adult consumes 22 teaspoons a day, our sweet-tooth children 32 teaspoons.
Obviously, over consumption of sugar can cause health problems: diabetes, obesity, hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure, to name a few.
None of these facts will be presented as evidence in the upcoming court case over Philadelphia's new sugary drink tax, but we believe it is time to raise the issue.
The beverage industry despises the new law and spent millions to defeat it while it was in Council.
No such luck. It passed 13-4 and will go into effect in January, adding about 1.5-cents-an-ounce to sugary drinks. Mayor Kenney never mentioned the health aspect of his proposed tax. Instead he sold it, simply and plainly, as a way to raise money ($90 million a year) for worthy causes, such as universal pre-K.
Because of Kenney's silence on the public health aspect of the tax, the industry hasn't been able to use arguments it employed in other places where a tax was considered: that it is a big government intrusion on individual rights, a Nanny State measure design to ruin our lives.
Instead, this case will hinge on the issue of tax policy (yawn). The industry, in a suit filed last week, said the new law violates the state Constitution's uniformity clause, which forbids varying tax rates in most cases. (The uniformity clause is the reason the sales tax is the same whether you are buying a car or a pack of gum.)
The city argues that the tax is legal because it is levied on distributors, not on consumers, and the uniformity clause does not apply.
The industry says this is a specious argument because distributors will simply add the tax to the retail price of their product. The city could point out that distributors are not required to pass on the tax to consumers. If the distributors are so concerned about making their product affordable, especially among the poor, it could eat the added costs themselves. (Don't wait for that to happen.)
To get back to real life, it is clearly true that a steep rise in the price of sugary drinks will lead to a decline in sales, as people turn to other alternatives.
We've seen that with cigarettes. Consumption dropped dramatically as the taxes added on climbed to several dollars a pack. (In Philadelphia, it is currently $4.60) The smoker's pain is our gain: Fewer cases of lung cancer, a lower instance of heart disease and billions saved in the cost of health care to treat smokers.
The beverage industry is aware of the fate of the tobacco industry. It knows that if this city's law withstands the legal challenge, other cities and states will surely follow.
There is no doubt that taxes on sugar will hurt the industry's sales and could reduce its profits. The same is true of small retailers who sell sugary drinks.
But we believe the dividends reduced consumption of sugar will yield are far more important.