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25 March 2021

Time to tax sugary drinks?

Study finds UK sugar tax is working.

In March, a study published in the British Medical Journal found the UK’s soft drinks industry levy (sugar tax) is hitting the sweet spot. The levy, introduced in 2018, taxes sugary drinks based on their sugar content – the higher the sugar levels, the higher the levy.

The study looked at the purchasing habits of more than 22,000 households from 2014 to 2019. It found that despite no overall change in the volume of soft drinks purchased, there was a reduction in the amount of sugar in the drinks. It concluded the levy might benefit public health without harming the industry’s bottom line.

Many public health groups here – including Health Coalition Aotearoa, the New Zealand Medical Association and the New Zealand Dental Association – are campaigning for a sugary drinks tax to protect child health and prevent obesity.

Last year, Health Coalition Aotearoa’s Food Policy Expert Panel published a systematic review in the New Zealand Medical Journal looking at the impact of food taxes and subsidies to protect health. The review concluded these interventions delivered health benefits.

Study co-author Dr Lisa Te Morenga said the government should consider introducing a UK-style levy. “An industry levy also generates significant revenue, which could be allocated to programmes to improve children’s health, such as funding pre-school education and providing healthy school lunches,” Dr Te Morenga said.

The World Health Organization also recommends a sugar tax. It states people who consume sugary drinks every day, have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes than those who rarely consume them. More than 40 countries tax sugary drinks, including the UK, Mexico, France and some Pacific Island countries.

In our recent survey, 51 percent of consumers supported a sugar tax on drinks to make these products less attractive and reduce the amount of sugar we consume. Twenty-one percent were undecided while 23 percent were opposed.

Why target sugary drinks?

Sugary drinks are the main source of sugars consumed by Kiwi children and young people. They’re associated with tooth decay, weight gain and obesity. Studies have shown if you shift from a kilojoule-free drink like water to a kilojoule-laden soft drink, you don’t adjust your diet to take account of the extra kilojoules.

There’s also evidence that the sugar in drinks is more harmful than sugar in solid food.

In 2019, a New Zealand study published in the Obesity journal concluded consuming liquid sugars increased the risk of metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes – compared with sugar from solid foods.

Do you support a tax on sugary drinks to make these products less attractive and help reduce the amount of sugar we consume?

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James C.
27 Mar 2021
Bring it on

About time. In a perfect world it wouldn't be needed. But money distorts perfection. It's about selling more. Sugar and salt make food more addictive. Sugar is very very addictive and for that reason intervention is appropriate.
Yes - parents have a lot to answer for too. There is 3 decades of damage to kids health - including kids heading to the dentist with rotten baby teeth. Science is clear on the detrimental effects of sugar on the body. It's a parents duty to feed their kids well but many struggle in a society that lacks healthy affordably food choices. While sugar as an ingredient is dirt cheap so manufacturers focus on that. Softdrink manufacturers have sugar delivered by the truck-load! Say no more. MOST cafe's have no low/no-sugar options for kids. We still get some strange looks when we say the kids don't eat products with while sugar in them. Time to force change.

Marcel M.
27 Mar 2021
Taxing Sugary drinks

The problem isn't sugary drinks. The problem is peoples lack of exercise. My wife and i have had sugary drinks all our lives, and we are now in our late 50's. My wife and i, as well as our children all drink sugary drinks during the week now (a rough estimate probably would be 1.5-2 ltrs a week each), but we all exercise regularly (walks, runs, bicycling etc etc). We need to stop blaming everything that we eat/drink, and start taking some responsibility for ourselves.

Trevor B
27 Mar 2021
Marcel M you and your family are lucky.

No amount of exercise will help stop the damage caused by excessive sugar. Your family may have "lucky" genes or other compensating factors. Read up on the multitude of effects of overdosing on sugars (and carbs). In my early 60s I was diagnosed with high blood sugar levels - a precursor to diabetes. Greatly reducing my chocolate and carb intake (potatoes, rice & pasta) brought my levels down so I don't have the diabetes of my father and brother.
Food manufacturers started shoving sugar in when looking to reduce the fats in processed foods. Since when did tomato sauce need to be 25% sugar!

Robert J.
27 Mar 2021
Tax sugar, Untax fruit

What kind of government taxes fresh fruit and veg? Remove GST from fruit and veg and increase GST on all sugary products, drinks, sweets, biscuits, cereals, etc.
Ban sweets at supermarket checkouts and ban TV advertising of high sugar products between 7 & 9 a.m. and 3 & 7 p.m.
The government income remains and the population gets healthier!!

Mark H.
27 Mar 2021
Is taxing stuff always the answer?

I'm not sure I agree with yet another tax. It wouldn't hurt me personally because I gave up the fizzy drinks over a decade ago and have never consumed energy drinks. But if we tax sugary drinks, what about lollies? Will we end up with a health tax on everything that is considered unhealthy? Will I end up paying tax on something that is unhealthy, even if it is only a rare treat for me?

Simonne M.
27 Mar 2021
Tax food and beverages with hidden added sugar

There are many foods and beverages that have sugar added to them that you wouldn't expect to have sugar. These are the ones that need to be targeted for tax. When I expect a product to have high sugar, such as soft drink, biscuits, sweets, I can choose to avoid them or limit how much I have. But there are products, for example some breads, some milks, some sauces, some spreads like peanut butter, that have sugar added to them over and above what would naturally be there from the main ingredients. These are hidden sugars and this is where the tax should be targeted. Sugar is addictive and the sugar added to products that don't need it only target that addiction.

Dwayne B.
27 Mar 2021
People need to take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Nobody forces people to behave poorly.

Overconsumption of food and consuming the wrong type of food is poor behaviour, and should be recognised as such.

This type of campaign is providing yet more excuses for people to refuse to take responsibility for their own choices.

Shameful.

J W C.
27 Mar 2021
Shamefully selfish

Anyone who accepts the evidence of the risks to heath of consuming sugary drinks sees the costs of medical care to be carried by society. So it's not just poor behaviour, it's also selfish

Joe Carson

Your Highness
27 Mar 2021
Personal responsibility

The primary function of government is to support and look after its citizens, so I see it as entirely appropriate to tax sugar, as well as tobacco, alcoholic beverages, fuel (to provide a safe and efficient road network) to name just a few. Where a government fails in these respects, there is often a negative outcome. Taxing an undesirable substance can help avoid the substance being abused, and is often a good alternative to banning it.
Personally, I think that singling out soft drinks for a sugar tax is clumsy, and less effective than taxing the added-sugar component of ALL food and drinks at point of manufacture or at the border when imported. According to Dept of Statistics, NZ imports approx 250 million kg of centrifugal sugar annually, equating to about 1kg of sugar weekly per head. A tax of $4/kg would raise a billion in the first year, declining rapidly thereafter!