As of Friday, 6th April, the UK will join a small number of countries that have added a tax to sugary drinks – known as a form of ‘sin tax’. The Metro reports “the government insists the tax will significantly cut obesity, and raise more than £240 million in 2018-19.” The new tax will see customers asked to pay 18 or 24 pence more per litre (if the sugar content is over 8 grams per 100 millilitres), but will this new measure (officially named the Soft Drinks Industry Levy), brought in as part of an anti-obesity policy, have a significant impact on the shopping habits of consumers?
Why Introduce a Tax on Sugary Drinks?
An example of a sin tax imposed here in the UK is the one on all tobacco products. The tax, as well as supplementary health campaigns, has proved to be extremely effective in reducing the number of smokers (by as much as 50% since the 70s). Whilst the sugar tax shares similarities with the UK’s tobacco levy, it certainly differs in its coverage; currently, the focus of sugar tax is solely on soft drinks, leading some to believe that those with a sweet tooth will turn to purchasing other sugary products (that aren’t taxed as highly) instead. What’s to stop a customer from buying a milkshake or chocolate bar rather than a cola? If this happens, “the impact of the tax on sugar consumption will be reduced,” said the BBC.
It’s no secret that excess sugar consumption is linked to rising obesity rates; this news has been splashed across the front pages of newspapers for many years. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that the UK has the sixth highest obesity rate in the world with 26.9% (!) of those over 15 years obese. Last year, treatment in England for obesity-related conditions for instance rose by 18%.
It’s also well known that, as well as obesity, sugary drinks can lead to heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay in addition to other health-related problems. However, even the knowledge of this information hasn’t changed the spending habits of adults or children in the UK. Around 14.8 billion litres of soft drinks are consumed each year, including the likes of a 330ml can of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer which contains a whopping 13 teaspoons of sugar; the recommended maximum daily intake for an individual over 11 years old is 7.5.
With the huge array of sugary drinks on offer with no age restrictions or laws regulating the quantity or type of those purchased, it’s easy to see how so many are consumed so easily by people of all ages. The sugar tax aims to deter people from buying sugary drinks in the first place due to the higher price tag, but the question is (especially if addiction is a factor): ‘will 20 odd pence really encourage people to break their old habits?’
Is the Sugar Tax Enough?
Granted, we may (and hopefully will) see the amount of sugary drinks purchased decline after the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, but high sugar levels in beverages is just one fish in a rather crowded pond. What about the high levels of sugar in food? Are we to see an increase in the price of highly sugary foods soon? Will there be a maximum sugar limit on certain products? Perhaps more extreme measures are required and we might see some goods and beverages banned completely in the future. The last idea may not be as farfetched as you may think – from July this year, the National Health Service (NHS) will completely ban sugary drinks in NHS hospitals across England.
The obesity epidemic in the UK may be frightening when stats are examined on paper, but we must keep positive in knowing that steps are being taken towards a healthier future. For example, sin taxes cut disease and the cost to society; they discourage people from consuming unhealthy products and raise money to help fight and treat the diseases they cause, says NBC News. Joining the new sugar tax is a minimum price imposed on alcohol in Scotland from May (2018) with Wales looking at similar measures.
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