Professor Corinna Hawkes, Sugar tax : what you need to know CITY University of London April 18th 2018
Need To Know
The UK government has not made changing people’s dietary habits an explicit aim of the tax. But evidence from elsewhere does suggest people buy less when a tax comes into force. For example, in Mexico – which introduced a one peso per litre excise tax on sugary drinks in 2014 – purchases of taxed drinks fell by almost 8 per cent in the following two years. Larger decreases were seen in households at the lowest socioeconomic level. And people also bought more of the untaxed drinks – notably water.
In the Mexico case, however, we don’t actually know if people started buying fewer sugary drinks because of the price hike, or because of another reason. This is because the data simply measures the decline after the tax, not why the decline is happening. So while prices are likely to have a played a role, there could be another mechanism at work. It could be, for example, that the tax started a conversation, raised awareness, got the industry talking about what it would do in response, and stimulated other actions to reduce consumption.
Through the WI Lens
Not intended as a silver bullet to solve obesity, a contributory measure to influence change for manufacturers and consumers alike but will a soft drink focus alone be enough to inspire a shift? Many high sugar drinks are not included, such as high calorie syrup coffees, milk shakes and yoghurt drinks, are all free from the levy.
The expected upsides are; 1) Reduced sugar intake 2) Lowering obesity (in time) 3) Education 4) Funding more sport in schools. In most cases sugar is being replaced with sweeteners such as aspartame which has suggested but unproven neurotoxic effects based on current consumption levels. This may raise further questions that whilst sugar intake and obesity is being reduced, is another issue being fuelled? The gap between public and private sector focus on pro active health is narrowing and leaning in favour of the health and wellbeing industry; the recent calorie cap on fast food is another example. Such commitment (by government) increases the onus on hospitality and workplaces to be a part of a healthier society – this spotlight and influence may be the biggest win.
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