Supporting the sugar tax was a mistake

In a new report the Taxpayer’s Alliance (TPA) described the Government’s planned sugar tax as “regressive”, saying it will “hit the poorest families hardest”. The new tax, announced by the Chancellor in his 2016 budget, will be levied on the soft drinks industry with the intention of reducing obesity.

Liberal Democrat support for a sugar tax began in 2012 when Autumn conference recommended consulting on “taxation of heavily sugared drinks”. Tom Brake MP wrote in the IB Times this year commending George Osborne’s “bravery” in introducing the levy. The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ 2016 manifesto committed to use funds raised by the sugar tax to encourage sports participation.

The case in favour may appear compelling. Over a third of children are considered obese or overweight, triple the figure in England 25 years ago. The last decade has seen a 60% increase in Type 2 diabetes. Clearly action is needed to discourage excessive consumption of sugary drinks, the largest source of sugar for children and teenagers.

But the sugar tax is not progressive. Beyond grumbling about interference from the nanny state there are strong argument against the tax, which will levy up to 24p per litre on fizzy drinks.

The tax will be limited to soft drinks. After testing 49 drinks the TPA found that often coffee shop drinks and flavoured milks contained more sugar than soft drinks. Coca Cola contains 10.6g/100ml of sugar while a chai latte with skimmed milk from Costa contains 17.5g/100ml and Tesco chocolate fudge brownie flavoured milk contains 13.1g/100ml. Raising the cost of soft drinks may simply encourage the purchase of sugarier drinks which aren’t taxed.

The TPA also suggested the sugar tax would “push up the cost of everyday products for hard-pressed families”. Many low-income households consume soft drinks occasionally as part of a balanced diet. Is it fair to put the cost of tackling obesity on those households?

The UK soft drinks industry, which employs 12,000 people, has recently worked concertedly to reduce the sugar content of its products. Cooperating with Government and special interest groups manufacturers have used reformulation, product development and marketing to reduce calorie consumption. Compared to 2011 calories from soft drinks are down 11%, and nearly 60% of drinks on the market are low or zero calorie. We shouldn’t punish this industry, putting wages and job places at risk, when cooperation has yielded such positive results.

Empirical evidence implies that these types of levy have little impact. In France imposition of a soft drinks tax saw volumes consumed down less than 1%. A similar tax in Mexico saw an average reduction of only 6 calories per day. One UK study found that a 20% tax (on top of the current 20% VAT) would produce a mere 4 calories per day average reduction.

As liberals we believe in the freedom to choose independent of government coercion. The sugar tax is not only illiberal but completely ineffective. Liberal Democrats should withdraw previous support for this policy and instead recommend education to tackle obesity.

* Jack Watson is a Mechanical Engineering student and Secretary of Edinburgh Young Liberals

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35 Comments

  • David Allen 7th Jun '16 - 12:31pm

    Lobbyists for industries which make profits by selling harmful products always look for arguments in favour of allowing harm to continue. That a specific tax on a harmful product is not progressive is an argument which has also been used by the tobacco industry to “justify” them carrying on killing people for profit. It is, of course, total nonsense.

    If you are truly worried about inequality, and you see that a sugar tax will on its own act to increase it to a marginal extent, then you should play around with other taxes and make those compensatingly more strongly progressive. Simple. (However, this Tory government believes that inequality should increase, and has acted to put that belief into practice, so the inequality issue won’t worry them.)

  • Stephen Howse 7th Jun '16 - 12:35pm

    I didn’t and don’t support this policy for exactly the reasons outlined in this piece. Excellent work.

  • Geoffrey Payne 7th Jun '16 - 12:58pm

    The TPA are a biased think tank that will only look at evidence that fits their agenda. They are unlikely to produce a report to justify more taxes. The
    The evidence needs to be assessed by an independent body for it to be credible. I notice that the author does not have any alternative policy options to tackle this problem.

  • “Compared to 2011 calories from soft drinks are down 11%, and nearly 60% of drinks on the market are low or zero calorie. We shouldn’t punish this industry, putting wages and job places at risk, when cooperation has yielded such positive results.”

    So those 60% of drinks aren’t affected by the tax then.

    “Coca Cola contains 10.6g/100ml of sugar”

    The tax has 2 bands. Hopefully the tax will encourage the manufacturers to reduce the sugar a bit. Going from 10.6 to 8 or less will put Coke in the lower band and reduce the tax.

    The income from the tax will help pay for the additional heathcare costs that heavy consumers are likely to incur over their lifetimes. The alternative is that everyone pays, including those who don’t drink this stuff.

  • “As liberals we believe in the freedom to choose independent of government coercion.” Errrrrr, yes to a point… but….

    1. Folk still have the freedom to choose – albeit at a premium.

    2. We live in a thing called society (despite Thatcher’s speech to the contrary in Edinburgh all those years ago). If people wilfully inflict harm on themselves (and more important on their innocent children) a democratic society surely has the right to a) send a message via the tax system, b) recoup revenue to pay for the cost to the NHS (i.e. the rest of us)of the consequences of evidence based individual conduct.

    3.Suggest Jack Watson stands outside the main entrance to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for half an hour to observe the consequences of what he doesn’t want to tax.

    4. If some targets have been missed – then widen the scope rather than aboliosh it.

  • I very much agree with this article. If you look at smoking the thing that really worked is a mixture of better medical information and public bans. If you want to reduce sugar you should be looking at food production not the consumers. A mixture of better health information and maybe looking at limiting the amount of sugar in food production will do more good than taxation. Also have heavy fuel duties actually reduced demand significantly. This kind of puritan taxation might make people feel that they are doing something but are not terribly effective.

  • “In a new report the Taxpayer’s Alliance (TPA) described the Government’s planned sugar tax as “regressive”,”

    This is, of course, is the same right wing Taxpayer’s Alliance that has connections with the Republican Tea Party in the USA, and also funds the BREXIT Leave Campaign.

    Not the sort of company I would like to keep.

  • I disagree with the article and support party policy here.

    The health reasons for doing so are well laid out here – but it fails the magic test of being “progressive.” In much the same way that our tuition fee betrayal is justified by being more “progressive” this spectacularly misses the point. A sugar tax would have no impact if it didn’t encourage different choices – it’s about giving reasons to try alternatives and develop good habits. It may take a generation for the benefits to be seen. Changes in labelling and advertising, worthy as they are, can only get you so far.

    As others have said, the Taxpayers’ Alliance are a right wing pressure group who attack taxes whenever they can – they won’t be speaking in favour of regressive taxes!

  • Poor people are currently “punished” by the Coca-Cola tax – high profits to American multinationals. Arguably worse health outcomes are also borne more by the poorer despite the NHS. A study published in the BMJ show that the Mexico sugar tax is working – with a 12% decline in taxed beverages with a 4% increase in untaxed beverages – “mainly bottled water”. http://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.h6704

    The paper also says it is thought that from a large number of studies – ” that humans do not reduce food intake when consuming caloric beverages.” – that is sugary drinks are added calories.

    The human body needs to control sugar in the blood very tightly – so sugary drinks get a sugar spike and the body treats it as an emergency and stores the sugar quickly – meaning that you still feel hungry after drinking a sugary drink. In addition half of table sugar – fructose is stored as fat in the liver and organs which is thought to be particularly dangerous.

    Averages are difficult. If someone drinks one less can of drink a day – that is well over 100 calories which is equivalent – all other things being equal to 10 pounds of fat a year. A calorie is a calorie but it seems that calories in sugary drinks are particularly problematic. The TPA briefing quotes the FT as saying there has been a 5% drop in calories in Mexico – that’s a 100 calories.

    Also the tax will go on increasing school sport – public expenditures has to come from taxes – it’s better to tax bad things than good.

  • But , as a Party, we uncritically fall-in behind every ‘public-health’ initiative, no matter how tenuous its chances of making any impact on the problem at hand. “Something must be done. This is something. Do it. A (deep breath of reverence) public health academic has ‘researched’ it”. Why should this have been any different?

    Profoundly depressing.

  • I suppose it was only going to be a matter of time before the “right on” crowd started to promote this totally warped viewpoint.

    Ignoring all the b*ll**ks about the tax itself. Let’s focus instead on the intended outcome: reducing the occurrence Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes from what we have been told is in most cases a totally avoidable condition. However, people expect the NHS to pay for their treatment when they diagnosed with the condition…

    Whilst the cost of treating a patient is probably the same, regardless of a person’s socioeconomic background, the price to society is vastly different. Fundamentally, someone from a poorer background will not have made any meaningful contributions to the funding of the NHS and their treatment; whereas for someone from a well-off background the converse is likely to be true. Given there are many more people from a poorer background than from a well-off background, this gives rise to a real dilemma: should the NHS be spending, what is projected to be an increasing proportion of its funding on treating what is a in effect a lifestyle choice condition, or be using its resources to treat poorer people in real medical need?

    Personally, I’m happy for the powers that be, to use their influence to encourage people to turn away from self-harming practices, if it means more of my taxes get spent on things that will make a difference to a greater number of people.

    Yes the logic I use here could be (mis)applied to other things, but what is important is before looking at the narrow tax implications is to step back and look at the bigger picture…

  • @Roland
    “Type 2 diabetes from what we have been told is in most cases a totally avoidable condition…”

    um… so are many things. A large number of lifestyle choices “kill” us and make us ill and unfortunately life is a fatal condition – and many of those choices are avoidable. Perhaps particularly lung cancer. But tax on cigarettes is thought to be a useful weapon in the armoury to reduce consumption of cigarettes.

    What is interesting is why people should be overweight… There is a school of thought that simply people eat too much and move too little and are too greedy and lazy with too little willpower – this of course on one level is true and particularly easy in an environment with many labour saving devices and plentiful food.

    But we have a massive regulation system – tens of systems to regulate how much to eat and when to stop. Our systems are not good at regulating sugar – we are genetically programmed to get a big reward from it (as it was important to eat it when we found it and it tells us food is good to eat) but the forms we got it in traditionally were as food and much less concentrated. Sugary drinks give us the reward but has a spike in the response so we don’t feel satiated – when we eat sugar in fruit or vegetables we get a large amount of fibre and volume which slows digestion, keeps us fuller longer and tells us to stop eating – a satiation/fullness hormone (gherlin) is produced when our stomach is stretched.

    The interesting fact is why 80%-90% of diets “fail” – people lose weight and put it back on – although they will have worked very hard to lose the weight. One reason is the hormone leptin is produced by fat – so as you get fatter in general food is less attractive. When you lose fat the opposite happens but someone who has lost fat produces less leptin than someone of the same weight. In addition someone who has lost weight will need fewer calories – some 300 a day – than someone of the same weight who hasn’t. http://www.webmd.boots.com/diet/guide/the-facts-on-leptin-faq

    All this means that prevention – including reducing sugar drinks as a particularly problematic way to ingest calories is important but obviously this includes education and encouraging a more healthy lifestyle. Those last 100 calories a day – a can of drink – is probably killing people.

  • @ David Very sorry that you feel things are “profoundly depressing”.

    Something ought to be done about it.

  • @Michael – I think we are sort of in agreement in that price may encourage people to make lifestyle decisions and that a way the government can impact pricing is through taxation… Which has two big impacts firstly it makes particular products more expensive to buy which hopefully reduces consumption and secondly it makes particular products less price competitive in the market and hence encourage manufacturers to change their formulations.

    The one question that TPA et al. don’t bring up is whether in fact the tax on tobacco (and on alcohol) had any real effect on consumption levels and hence on health (ie. did fewer people take up smoking, did smokers cut down etc.). Because if you were to oppose a sugar tax, showing that such taxes had no real impact – other than to raise prices would be a relatively strong argument.

    I’m a little concerned about your seeming linkage of the issue of sugary drinks to people being overweight. Whilst many people with diabetes might be fat, this isn’t always the case either before or after the condition has becoming manifest. So I think there is a danger of simply categorising this as an issue that only concerns ‘fat’ people and not everyone.

    With respect to diet, as you indicate sugar in diet is a complex matter. For exmple, there is a huge difference between a whole orange and freshly squeezed orange juice – someone with diabetes can (generally) eat the first but has to be much more cautious about the second, because of the differing rates of digestion and release of sugars. From what I’ve seen, the particular group of sugary drinks that are subject to the sugar tax are those that don’t satisfy dietary needs and who’s purpose (liquid refreshment) can be easier achieved with other products with a lower sugar content.

  • David Allen 7th Jun '16 - 7:57pm

    “The tax will be limited to soft drinks. After testing 49 drinks the TPA found that often coffee shop drinks and flavoured milks contained more sugar than soft drinks.”

    This is the “bog them down in complexity” defence. Coffee shop drinks will vary from day to day, as milk content and barista practice vary. So they would be harder to police. The TPA and the sugar industry would love it if government got bogged down in trying to chase after coffee shops as well. So they try to argue that tackling the main culprits is somehow “unfair”. They’re just trying to dodge tax.

    “Liberal Democrats should … recommend education to tackle obesity.”

    Profit is maximised if we do nothing at all about obesity. “Education” is as close as one can get to doing nothing, so industry lobbyists call for “education”. Liberal Democrats should have no truck with lobbyists.

  • Martin Land 7th Jun '16 - 8:11pm

    Reports from major sugar producers predict a worldwide shortage over the coming years so the laws of supply and demand may render this whole argument superfluous.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Jun '16 - 8:19pm

    People who consume heavily sugared drinks DO have an alternative. Stop consuming them! Turn to drinks that have less sugar and they won’t be taxed. Using taxes to persuade people to make better choices is wholly Liberal and in line with JS Mill’s harm principle.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Jun '16 - 8:23pm

    Very sympathetic to all the above , but come down on the side of doing whatever brings in the dosh to fund the NHS, as David Raw mentions , and hits nobody very badly , which this does satisfy .And that is why it is not very effective .We need to go to the power and the source.

    Let s get sensible , a few pennies makes sweet Fanny Adams difference to the woes of the bottom of the income scale , and I know as I have the T shirt !

    We should do what Baroness Benjamin suggested , and few care more about the poor than her , difference is she does not pander to people ! She and a cross party group of Peers proposed a few months back , going for the reduction of the amount of sugar acceptable at the supply side , in the product , all products ,and or clear labelling .

    We should also be encouraging , as a society , consumption of good things , by zero rating or other incentives re the tax payable in the EU and out , ie absurd tarriffs and the like , no longer to be based on regions, and nationalistic protectionism, rather than the nature of the products.Not likely , but there are other ways.

    I favour a sugar tax , across the board , as with tobacco , fuel , alcohol, and eventually we may explore the reverse on healthy food .Yet as a Liberal and a Democrat it is up to others to make their own decisions ,when the item is on the shop floor. I do not judge consumers , just the so called food !

    I am a vegetarian , I like healthy food ,on the whole and within reason , savoury or sweet, has honey, or fructose , both no more expensive than the rubbish people eat in fast food outlets , ever entered the lives of most ?! Why is it not acceptable to be poor and prefer brown bread at 50p a loaf , rather than a two quid lousy big mac?! Sorry , might be not sympathising with them , whoever they , are ?! Actually the poverty stricken Blairs and Obamas are as keen on these burger bars peddling tripe , literally, than ever I and anyone I know when struggling moneywise !

    The patronising thing is to belittle those on low incomes ,and the consumers of garbage, as always the same people ! I have known real financial difficulties , disability issues,all the more reason to not be kneekerk reactors in throw to the rubbish peddled by some of the worst offenders of the corporate world !

    Crikey , I am sounding like … David .. Raw.!

  • @Roland

    We are basically in agreement – I somewhat misread your comment.

    You are right to point out that people can be so called “thin on the outside and fat on the inside.” with fatty organs – pancreas, liver etc. – although in general there is a large degree of correlation between obesity and other problems.

    Correlation is not causation but in general if people lose weight their markers such as cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure improve and in general these lead to increased risk of cardio-vascular disease and other diseases. Although people can have “metabolic syndrome” – raised amounts of several of these without necessarily being obese.

    The issue with sugar and sugary drinks is firstly really about the fact that it does not cause (much) satiation – reduced hunger. So it is easy to over-eat on it.

    And secondly the additional problem with table sugar is that it is half fructose (and half glucose). And fructose has a different metabolism and tends to be stored directly in the liver – leading to a fatty liver and fatty organs and pancreas and then impaired insulin and then higher blood sugar (a very high blood sugar is diabetes due to no insulin (type 1) or impaired insulin and insulin functioning (type 2) but even moderately raised average blood sugar level is harmful.

    Glucose is metabolised by insulin is raised when blood glucose increases and which also acts as a hormone leading to feelings of satiation. Indeed fructose does not raise blood sugar.

    So “neat” sugar (especially in a drink) is a fourfold problem – less satiation, metabolised in the liver and contributes to general fat storage (as general calories) and not high in volume.

  • On the general issue of blood sugar – sugar and someone already with type 2 diabetes – sugar has a higher spike and glycaemic index but other carbohydrates get broken down into glucose so will have a (may be higher) glycaemic load over time. And it also depends on what you eat the “sugar” with – fat, fibre and protein will lower the glycaemic index. So fruit juice eaten in a whole fruit will have fibre which will reduce the spike but keep the total glycaemic load the same for the same amount of sugar and juice (less for longer which may or may not be better!). Also by and large whole fruit is lower in sugar than many think.

  • I have two concerns not mentioned in the article. Firstly, the tax encourages the use of sugar substitutes that in some cases may be more harmful than sugar. Low calorie does not automatically mean healthier. Secondly, the tax includes sports drinks and while I accept that many people who drink sports drinks don’t exercise I don’t think we want to be making sport more expensive.

  • David Garlick 8th Jun '16 - 9:45am

    I am unsure about this Tax. It is clear that these drinks are bad for people and consumers have poorer health which in turn costs us all much tax payers money to help them.
    I am a liberal and that surely means that people should be free to damage their health as they wish. Do Governments have a role in helping them to not do that? and if they do are they interfering/nannying or providing a sensible law for the benefit of all?
    I would prefer that there be regulation to ensure that the product labelling leaves it quiet beyond doubt that by consuming them regularly people risk real life threatening health issues. If that does not work (yes there needs to a way of providing the same information to café/restaurant users) then Tax, as with cigarettes, may need to be used.

  • @ David Garlick
    “I am a liberal and that surely means that people should be free to damage their health as they wish.”

    That sentence only has moral validity if said people who are wilfully damaging their health as they wish don’t use the NHS which is paid for by everybody else. Don’t forget it was Thatcher who said ‘there is no such thing as society’.

    There is – or ought to be – a huge difference between anarchic libertarianism and political Liberalism. Try driving down the wrong side of the motorway just because you feel like and see what happens.

  • Sue Sutherland 8th Jun '16 - 1:56pm

    I agree with Lorenzo, who referred to Baroness Benjamin. We should be regulating the contents of all mass produced food which often contains unexpected ingredients to make it more appealing to us. We are, after all, programmed to prefer sweet over bitter or sour food because that is more likely to be poisonous or rancid. Of course manufacturers pander to this so that they sell more products.
    I suspect the motives of this Government who may think they have hit upon the golden egg of taxation, inelastic demand. For years governments raised taxes on beer and cigarettes without significantly reducing demand which gave them a nice little earner, now sugary drinks may play a similar role, justified by the cry of sugar is bad for you.

  • I am puzzled by the coffee shop point.

    It depends upon the intended purpose of the tax. As this tax has been portrayed as being about public health it makes sense for it’s introduction to reflect this objective. A quick look at the volume of ‘sugary’ drinks consumed and the age groups who consume them shows that the biggest long-term public health impact with will be obtained by levying the tax on soft drinks, because it is these drinks children consume the most. Hence there is no puzzle.

    I am a liberal and that surely means that people should be free to damage their health as they wish.
    People still are free to damage their health, just that if they decide to do it through the consumption of sugary soft drinks, it will be a little more expensive…

  • @Joe Otten

    As I said in my post – the scientific consensus is that people drinking say a 150 calorie sugary drink do not reduce their caloric intake elsewhere whereas that is not the case with food. The advantage of eating sugar in a food is that you feel at least a bit full/satiated by it. People do not by and large eat sugar neat but with something.

    A 330ml can of coke is 10 teaspoons of sugar or about 40% of someone’s recommended intake of sugar. A large coke in McDonalds is about 60% of the sugar RI and about half someone’s daily calories in itself.

    – Other drinks that contain sugar

    Obviously there is an inconsistency in this. But Coca-Cola, say, has no other nutritional benefit – it is just caffeine, sugar and water. Fruit juice at least contains vitamins and other micro-nutrients that may help reduce some health problems. Milk contains protein and milk sugar (lactose) does not contain fructose – which may be particularly harmful.

    The scientific study in the British Medical Journal of the experience in Mexico was that the reduction in sugar fizzy drinks/soda was not compensated for by a rise in other sugary drinks – a 12% reduction in soda against a 4% rise in other drinks “mainly bottled water”. So it seems to work – at least there. And as has been said it is better to tackle part of the problem even if it is not the whole problem.

    It has often been said that if you see people falling off a cliff you at least construct a fence. A sugar tax is part of constructing that fence along with education and encouraging exercise. I was recently in a stroke ward in a local hospital after a friend had luckily a very minor stroke and it wasn’t a pretty sight. People have the right in a free society to do what they want even if it is harmful to them – smoke, drink, eat! But nudging them towards a better life is a responsible thing to do. I am not sure why people say that is wrong but not big companies nudging people towards a worse life and getting them to pay big profits to them in the process.

  • For clarity – a large coke in Mcdonalds is only 11% of someone’s daily calorie requirement – I looked at the joules rather than calories – it is still 60% of someone’s sugar RI.

  • @Tim P
    substitutes that in some cases may be more harmful than sugar.

    Which substitutes?
    It is highly likely that the human body is only “designed” by evolution to cope with very small concentrations of sugar and higher concentrations are indeed harmful to it.

    sports drinks
    Sports drinks are to my mind a complete an utter marketing con – they are just water and sugar
    Lucozade sport: 2 top ingredients (will be virtually all of it) – “Water, Glucose Syrup” – i.e. water and sugar.

  • John Mitchell 9th Jun '16 - 2:30pm

    I would not support the Sugar Tax and have not from the outset. I agree with the article in that such a tax will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest who have already been burdened by a hike in VAT which we helped raise whilst in government with the Conservatives.

    As others have correctly said, this method has been tried in other countries and has not worked. The best example I can think of would be the tax on saturated fats in Denmark which was ultimately shelved.

    Slapping a tax on soft drinks is lazy policy making. What should be happening is much more cooperation and coercion with food suppliers generally. Sugar is in virtually everything and is contributing to higher levels of obesity internationally. I do fear that such a tax on soft drinks only is just a sticking plaster and will not do anything to reduce obesity or indeed deter people from their chosen or favourite drinks. The food industry needs much better examination and regulation if the country is serious about tackling obesity.

  • John Mitchell 9th Jun '16 - 2:33pm

    I’d also make a point that this will drive people towards sweeteners and perhaps the food industry more generally with ‘diet’ products. Sweeteners are more harmful than sugar. At 300 times sweeter than sugar, the human body cannot absorb sweeteners and the same issue is apparent in that it drives people to sweet foodstuffs and drinks. That’s besides the chemical compounds that make up sweeteners not being fully known or understood.

  • @John Mitchell

    The evidence in probably one of the most respected journals – the BMJ is that it has worked in Mexico. No tax is good but it is better to tax “bad” things than good. There are a whole battery of taxes that have in part an aim of changing people’s behaviour.

    Sugar v sweeteners
    Sugar is harmful – there is absolutely no question. In small amounts it is tolerated and coped with by the body. But even moderately raised blood sugar (well below diabetic levels) is harmful and can contribute to arterial and cardio-vascular disease as well as leading to making organs fatty – look into the scientific literature.

    Non-calorific sweeteners seem to be safe. Some on the internet criticise aspartame (what isn’t criticised on the internet) but if you look objectively at it is more than safe and certainly much safer than sugar. Stevia (used in coke life and sprite) is a natural herb.

    There is some thought that the body tasting a sweet stuff and then not get any calories mean that people then eat other calories -it seems from the scientific evidence and literature that this is unlikely to be the case.

    Sugar is much more harmful than sweeteners.

    We need evidence based policy as Lib Dems – anything new by definition is yet to be fully tested but your comment is not based on evidence.

  • I agree with the article in that such a tax will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest who have already been burdened by a hike in VAT

    There are some daft people out there…

    Before the sugar tax came in, on the shelves of our shops were soft drinks that contained sugar and variants (from the same manufacturer) that didn’t, typically with zero difference in price. With the sugar tax, we have the same drinks on the shelves, but the ones will high levels of sugar now carry a price premium, additionally, major soft drink vendors are advertising the fact they produce their products in two versions: with sugar and without sugar. Can someone explain how this situation will hit those on low incomes the hardest?

    Additionally, evidence from behavioral, economic and health research is suggesting that the UK’s heavy-handed approach is having a greater impact than the current US approach of simply putting health warnings on soft drink advertisements. However, to achieve it’s intended objective of reducing obesity, it needs to go much further…

  • Peter Watson 13th Jun '16 - 7:47pm

    @Roland “Before the sugar tax came in, on the shelves of our shops were soft drinks that contained sugar and variants (from the same manufacturer) that didn’t, typically with zero difference in price.”
    The variants can taste very different (I actually prefer the crisper taste of diet cola to the sugary versions), and those without sugar usually seem to come with the health warning “contains a source of phenylalanine” (or in the case of some sweeteners – though perhaps not those used in drinks – “may have a laxative effect”). It is not simply the same drink with and without sugar and the tax does provide an incentive for people to choose a drink which is quite different and which may or may not bring its own health risks (e.g. due to the artificial sweeteners and, strangely, some research that links consumption of diet drinks to obesity).

    However, with regards to the general argument that “such a tax will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest who have already been burdened by a hike in VAT”, surely that is the whole point of this sort of policy so I don’t really understand why it has come as a surprise to anyone so late in the day.

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