UK follows France, Norway and others on soft drinks sugar tax

In an effort to combat rising levels of obesity, highest among the poorest sections of society (The Guardian), the UK has followed Norway, France and Mexico to become the latest country to impose a sugar tax on soft drinks, with British soft drinks manufacturers being taxed on high-sugar products.

According to British health experts, all age groups in the UK are consuming too much sugar, but teenagers are consuming the most, at almost three times the recommended amount (DRWF).

The British sugar tax is tiered with drinks containing over 8g of sugar per 100ml taxed at 24p per liter and drinks with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml taxed at 18p per liter. The tax excludes pure fruit juices, as they do not carry added sugar, and drinks with a high milk content, due to their calcium content.

Britain follows France and Mexico who have introduced similar soft drinks sugar taxes in recent years in an effort to combat rising levels of obesity. France first introduced its tax at a national level in 2012 and sales of soft drinks subsequently declined, according to Canadean (Beveragedaily), despite previous years of growth.

The Mexican Senate approved a 1 Mexican peso ($0.08) per litre tax on sodas in 2013, despite a media campaign by soda companies who said the tax would increase joblessness in the sugar cane industry. Yearly sales of sodas in Mexico declined 6 percent in 2014 , after the tax was introduced (Wall Street Journal).

In New York, the Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule was a controversial proposed limit on soft drink portions which was heavily supported by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013. The rule was intended to prohibit the sale of sugary drinks which exceeded 0.47 liters in volume. But in 2014, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the New York City Board of Health had exceeded its regulatory authority in adopting the regulation.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued to back the initiative, it has been countered by a host of opponents, including drinks companies, bottlers and distributors. Instead, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and others have pledged to voluntarily reduce U.S. calorie consumption by an average of 20 percent by 2025.

Earlier this year, in an effort to improve the diet of its citizens, the Norwegian government increased the current tax on chocolate, sweets and soft drinks by as much as 83 percent.

The UK Treasury estimates half of manufacturers have reduced the sugar content of their drinks in response to the government announcing the implementation of the new soft drinks sugar tax. Fanta has cut its drink’s sugar content by almost a third, Ribena and Irn-Bru by half and Lucozade by nearly two-thirds. Tesco has reduced its own brand soft drink’s sugar content so that 85 percent now have less than 5 grams of sugar and therefore won’t be taxed.

Market leader Coca-Cola, which accounts for 14 percent of UK sugary fizzy drinks retail sales (The Guardian), has not cut its sugar content, saying “people love the taste and have told us not to change”.

When the sugar tax was first announced in 2016 the Treasury forecast it would raise more than £500m a year, but it now estimates it will generate £240m, as some manufacturers have reduced their drink’s sugar content.

Will the tax work?

Before the sugar tax was implemented in the UK there were concerns it wouldn’t reduce people’s consumption of sugary drinks or combat obesity and instead would act as a tax on the poor. The Institute for Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute say that the tax will only harm poorer consumers (Cityam). “The sugar levy is a cynical revenue raising device that will clobber people on low incomes …The British public are being treated like children”, said the IEA’s Christopher Snowdon.

University of Bedfordshire nutrition expert Dr Daniel Bailey said “We could just end up with consumers buying the same amount but paying more.”

However, experts found the criticism unfounded in papers published in the Lancet journal (The Guardian). They also discovered sugar taxes will most improve the health of the poorest, who are more affected by non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, which are affected by diet (The Telegraph).  “The evidence shows these [taxes] can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society,” said Dr Rachel Nugent, vice-president of global health charity RTI International (The Independent).


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