The start of the new tax year last week brings the Soft Drinks Industry Levy into effect. People more commonly know this levy as the buzzworthy Sugar Tax. There have been many debates about this tax, which aims to reduce the British public’s sugar consumption. At the moment, children and teenagers are consuming more than three times their daily recommended sugar intake. Adults are not doing much better, either. Excess sugar is a major contributor to obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. The sugar tax could help to prevent these health problems.
What is the Sugar Tax?
From 6th April 2018, drinks companies will have to pay taxes based on the amount of sugar in their drinks. Drinks with 5g of sugar or more per 100ml will have a tax charge of 18p per litre. More sugary drinks with 8g or more per 100ml will incur a tax charge of 24p per litre. However, fruit juices and drinks which contain at least 75% milk are exempt. Small companies producing less than 1 million litres a year can also avoid this tax. The money will go to the Department of Education, who can use it to fund school sports and activities which will improve public health.
The War on Sugar
Some people who feel that the government should stay out of their diets consider measures like this tax to be a war on sugar. Last year, Public Health England gave food companies the goal of cutting the sugar in their products by 20%. The time limit is the year 2020, but PHE expects a 5% sugar reduction in the first year. PHE will be publishing the results of this first year next month, in May. Participation in this scheme is voluntary, but no doubt PHE is going to name and shame companies in their report. A sugar tax on food items could follow the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.
Soft Drinks Industry Responses
Both the food companies and soft drinks companies trying to reduce their sugar content have the same options. The manufacturers can reduce the sugar by changing their recipes, or make portions smaller. The sugar tax applying only to soft drinks makes it much more critical for these companies to do something. If they still want to make a profit, they have to make consumers pay more for less. Otherwise, they will have to switch to artificial sweeteners and risk consumers not liking the new taste. The price of original Coke could rise by up to 50p per bottle, while the bottles will shrink in size. Original Pepsi is also not changing its sugar content. To avoid price increases, consumers will have to swap to Pepsi Max or Coke Zero. The good news is that plenty of drinks already reduced their sugar enough to avoid the impact of the levy. This includes Doctor Pepper, Fanta, Tango, Sprite, 7 Up, and Robinsons. Consumer responses will determine future changes.
How Does the Sugar Tax Affect Me?
As mentioned, soft drinks companies can push the tax onto consumers. Customers like you will end up paying more money for less product if you still want a bottle of regular Coke or Pepsi. On the plus side, the sugar tax might encourage you and others to make healthier choices. Now that you’re aware of just how much sugar you could be consuming every day, you might pay more attention to your intake. As long as people don’t consume other high-sugar products instead, like milkshakes or cakes and chocolate, the nation could become healthier as a result of the sugar tax. According to PHE, reducing sugar consumption could save 80,000 lives and £15 billion for the NHS. One of those lives could be yours, or one of the lives saved by the extra money which can fund other areas of the NHS. The tax money will fund public health, particularly in schools. Whether you have children or not, this will have a positive effect on families and communities.
Will the Sugar Tax Actually Work?
The sugar tax could be the push that the soft drinks industry needs to adjust its formulas. While original Pepsi and Coke aren’t budging, many drinks brands are reformulating with less sugar or sugar substitutes. Sweeteners are generally healthier than sugar. The downside is that a product containing more than 10% could induce laxative effects. Sweeteners also have a different flavour than regular sugar. Those with high-sugar lifestyles are likely to have an addiction to that taste and the sugar hit. Rising prices might not put them off. Or they could continue their sugar habit by purchasing other drinks or even sugary foods like ice cream instead. The tax only applying to soft drinks might not be enough. What about milkshakes and coffees? Have you ever checked how much sugar is in your latte or frappuccino? A sugar tax for these drinks may be on the way. Taxes like this have seen success in other countries. Soft drink sales in Mexico dropped by 12%.
Possible Anti-Sugar Policies
It is likely that further policies will come into effect regarding sugar in food and drinks. Obesity is still rising, even as consumption of soft drinks has already been falling in recent years. When it comes to food, it is more difficult to reduce sugar when it is an essential ingredient. In desserts, sugar is necessary for the rise and texture as well as flavour. We will have to see how reduction methods pan out for the food industry. In the meantime, the government may decide to pursue other policies suggested by Public Health England. For example, shops may not be allowed to sell high-sugar food next to tills or at the end of aisles to prevent impulse buys. Sugary products may experience advertising restrictions. Food labels could feature health warnings for excess sugar, the way cigarette packets do for excess tobacco. This is not just scaremongering or taking things too far. Public health is important, and 44% of people are already trying to consume less sugar.