Sugar tax would challenge powerful interests
Delay is the name of the PR campaign
The reasons one-quarter of young people are overweight or obese are well known: lack of exercise and a fast-food diet containing excessive amounts of sugars, fats and salt. Doing something about it, however, has been as difficult as reining in the activities of the alcohol and tobacco industries. The food and drinks industry blocked the introduction of a sugar tax in 2013, but the struggle to protect the health of consumers continues.
On the basis of past behaviour, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is unlikely to impose a sugar tax in the coming Budget. He declined to take advice from two former ministers for health because of a need to examine a proposed UK sugar tax, particularly in relation to cross-border trade. That UK tax is due to be applied in 2018 and a similar time scale may be adopted here.
The programme for partnership government contains a commitment to impose a health levy on sugar-sweetened drinks, but does not give details of timing or the likely charge. Concerned that early Irish action might be prompted by uncertainty surrounding the Brexit vote, the Irish Beverage Council has warned of extensive cross-border smuggling and economic damage in such an eventuality. Delay is the name of the public relations campaign.
There has been recent change in product development, driven by demands from health-conscious consumers. Almost half of soft drinks are now composed of low or no-calorie varieties. But some ‘normal’ fizzy drinks contains 25g of sugar and that exceeds the recommended daily intake for an adult. These are the drinks of choice within disadvantaged communities, where consumption of fast foods and fizzy drinks by children is twice the level of professional households. Levels of obesity reflect these dietary patterns. Serious public health issues are involved because of the obesity epidemic and its potential long-term costs. Taxing soft drinks will not, in itself, resolve that situation. But it would mark a strengthening of political resolve to challenge powerful commercial interests.