Jonathan Zimmerman: Soda Tax Foes Reek of Tobacco

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at

Taxes won't reduce consumption. They violate Americans' "right to choose." And they put a disproportionate burden on racial minorities.

Those were the claims deployed by the beverage industry to defeat proposed soda taxes in Philadelphia in 2010 and 2011. They also surfaced during the past election season in California, where two cities rejected taxes on sugary soft drinks.

But the forefather of these arguments is the cigarette industry, which used almost exactly the same rhetoric for a half-century to resist taxation and regulation. The cigarette companies were wrong then - just as the soda apologists are wrong now.

Consider Philadelphia's recent good news on smoking, which has plummeted 15 percent since 2008. Smoking rates declined across the country as well. The main reason is - you guessed it - higher taxes on cigarettes....

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