Taxing times

Calls for a sugar tax are never far from the headlines, and last week delegates at a Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) conference heard fresh pleas for such a tax on ‘sugary’ drinks.

Speaking at the conference, Obesity – a 21st century epidemic, on 5 June, professor Simon Capewell, chair of clinical epidemiology, public health and policy at the University of Liverpool, said that a tax on sugary drinks must form part of the approach to tackling obesity as a priority.

Professor Capewell highlighted the recent successful implementation of a 10 per cent sugary drinks tax in Mexico – where studies suggest a corresponding 10 per cent reduction in consumption – as an example of where lessons can be learned.

However, Gavin Partington, BSDA director general, says, “Professor Capewell’s personal views are well known in this area but the case is not compelling. In fact, even a modelling study produced by health campaigners predicts that a 20 per cent tax on soft drinks in the UK would lead to a reduction of just four calories a day.

“It’s also worth noting that politicians in Belgium and Denmark rejected the notion of a tax in 2013 and the experience in France shows that while sales of soft drinks initially fell after a tax was introduced in 2012 they have increased since.”

Perhaps we should instead focus on and champion the work of drinks manufacturers that are tackling the sugar issue in a proactive and responsible way.

New figures from Kantar Worldpanel, for example, show that calories and sugars from soft drinks are falling faster than in any other food and drink category, with calories down 7.3 per cent and sugar down 8.3 per cent since April 2012.

In addition, figures recently published in the 2015 UK Soft Drinks Report Changing Tastes reveal that half of all carbonates sold in the UK are low or no calorie (49 per cent). In addition, sales of bottled water continue to flourish – up 9.3 per cent in 2014 – and nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of all dilutables sold are low or no calorie.

With proof that the voluntary steps being taken by industry are having an impact on what’s on sale, perhaps it’s time to promote education about the effect of lifestyle, diet and exercise over a sugar tax.

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