As the UK moves closer to implementing its soft drinks industry levy (or 'sugar tax' as it is more commonly known), more and more companies are announcing their plans to reformulate their products, showing that it's entirely possible to reduce sugar and provide healthier options.
Yet while the measure is popular with the public and health experts, some myths are still being perpetuated by opponents of the levy. Here we explore some of the most common questions about the soft drinks industry levy.
Will the sugar levy work?
Yes. While the model put forward by Government has no direct comparison, there is extensive evidence from around the world showing a sugar tax works:
- In Mexico a1 peso excise tax (approximately 10%), on average, reduced consumption by 12% within 12 months.
- In Hungary, a tax on sugary products led 40% of manufacturers to reduce or eliminate sugar to avoid the tax.
Will the sugar levy cost jobs?
No, there is no credible evidence to suggest a sugar levy will costs jobs. An analysis of the effect of existing taxes in the EU did not show any long-term impact on the competitiveness of the food and drink industry from these taxes.
A report, (which was itself commissioned by the British Soft Drinks Association), stated the levy could cost up to 4,000 jobs. However, this figure did not take into account either the benefit to the dairy industry - said to benefit from a 3.7% increase in the volume of milk sold - or the likely increase in water and diet drinks sales. These figures were also calculated on the assumption that industry wouldn't reformulate their products. Yet several retailers and manufacturers have already announced plans to reduce sugar from their drinks so they are not affected by the levy.
Will the levy cost more money to implement than the revenue gained?
No. The levy will help save money. Obesity is one of the biggest drains on the NHS and the economy as a whole. The NHS is currently spending over £6 billion on obesity-related costs. The costs to the NHS attributable to overweight and obesity are projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, with wider costs to society estimated to reach almost £50 billion per year.
Is the levy an example of the nanny state going too far?
No, the Government has a duty of care to provide children with an environment that promotes health, not disease. The levy is about providing supportive environments, giving children a healthy start to life and about enabling people to make healthy and informed choices.
Will the sugar levy only lower our intake by 5 calories?
No. The '5 calories' reduction in total consumption claim is based on averaging out a total drop in consumption across the whole population. This ignores the fact that consumption is concentrated among teenagers - people aged 11 to 18 consume on average 21g of added sugar per day from soft drinks, which is more than double the amount consumed by people aged between 19 and 64.
Is the sugar levy regressive?
No, rather than being penalised, the health gains from the levy will be biggest for people on low incomes. Sugary drink consumption levels tend to be highest among the most disadvantaged children. The lowest income groups suffer the highest burden of sugar-related diseases, such as tooth decay, and have the highest intakes of sugar in their diets.
Obesity is one of the biggest public health threats facing the UK today and with sugary drinks contributing heavily to the rising levels of obesity, the soft drinks industry levy will be a vital measure to protect our children's health.
However over a fifth of children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school, and a third by the time they reach year six. Reformulation alone will not solve this problem. The levy needs to be one of several measures that challenges the obesogenic environment that surrounds us, including closing loopholes to protect children from junk food marketing on TV and online.