Revenue from the first month of Philadelphia’s sweetened beverage tax has surprised city officials, bringing in $57 million.

The Sun’s March 25 editorial (“Tax on soda crucial to children’s health,”) Mar. 25” offers taxes on beverages as a quick-fix solution to obesity, despite contrary evidence.

It is true that our nation is facing public health challenges — including obesity — however no single food, beverage or ingredient is a unique contributor to obesity or any other health conditions. It’s wrong to mislead people into believing that obesity is caused by one source of calories — and that a tax will make people healthy.

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Federal data shows obesity rates are on the rise while soda consumption is at 32-year lows. Data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation shows that full-calorie soda sales have gone down 13 straight years and average calories per serving from beverages are down 33 percent. Simply put, obesity rates have continued to go up as calories and sugars from beverages have been going down. Shouldn’t obesity rates have gone down with the decrease in beverage consumption if the two are correlated?

Maryland’s beverage companies share the goal of a strong, healthy America, which is why we are investing our energy and resources in comprehensive efforts to meaningfully address complex health challenges like obesity. We are driving a reduction in the sugar and calories consumed from beverages across America – engaging with prominent public health and community organizations in this effort.

We are providing more choices with reduced and zero sugar, clear calorie labels on the front of all our products and the encouragement to cut back on sugar and calories from beverages with calorie awareness signs on company-controlled vending machines, fountain equipment and retail coolers nationwide.

We’ve worked with local school districts to remove full-calorie soft drinks from all schools and replace them with lower-calorie, smaller-portion options. This has reduced beverage calories shipped to schools by 90 percent. Additionally, Maryland’s beverage companies follow responsible marketing practices, voluntarily agreeing to not advertise soft drinks or juice-based drinks to audiences under the age of 12. Under our “Guidelines on Marketing to Children” adopted in 2008, our companies agreed to only advertise 100 percent juice, water and milk-based drinks to this audience.

The industry is taking on the hard work to address obesity, something taxes simply will not do. Instead, taxes would do great harm to working families and small businesses in Maryland. A tax hike on beverages would hit working families not only at the cash register but could also put good-paying jobs at risk. One needs to look no further than Philadelphia, where business owners have seen sales drop by as much as 50 percent because of the beverage tax as Philadelphians shop in the suburbs to avoid the tax.

An estimated 800 jobs were lost in the retail sector, according to a study by Oxford Economics. A neighborhood ShopRite announced that due to lost sales it was shutting down in a low-income neighborhood that is now at risk for becoming a food desert.

Instead of advocating for a measure that will raise grocery prices on families and jeopardize local business, we should work to provide consumers with information on how to best maintain a balanced diet and give parents the choices in foods and beverages they need to help their families thrive.

Ellen Valentino

The writer is executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association

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