Taxing sugary drinks

 

Sir, – The article “Soft drinks industry warns sugar tax will lead to Border smuggling” (September 4th) highlights once more the calls for the sugar-sweetened drinks tax to be sidelined. The soft drinks industry claims that it is being “singled out” and its concentration solely on the reduction in daily consumption of sugary drinks by Irish children is the industry engaging in statistical gymnastics.

Ibec’s Beverage Council, in citing a World Health Organisation report on adolescent obesity to support its opposition to the impending sugar-sweetened drinks tax, claims that a sharp drop in young people consuming soft drinks every day is evidence that the tax should be scrapped. What it fails to mention is that the same WHO report concludes that on the basis of the evidence, priority actions to tackle childhood obesity should include “fiscal measures, such as introducing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages”.

No health organisation or researcher has ever said that the sugar sweetened drinks tax would, by itself, solve the obesity crisis. The tax is not a magic bullet, but a potentially significant step forward, especially if combined with other measures at the individual and societal level. Obesity is a complex phenomenon with many contributing factors. The sugar-sweetened drinks tax should be introduced as one part of a multifaceted intervention that should address labelling on foods high in fat, sugar and salt; the marketing of junk food to children; and a ban on vending machines in schools. With the confirmation in Budget 2017 that Ireland would introduce a sugar-sweetened drinks tax in April 2018, it is now time to make preparations to allocate revenues from this levy to reinvest in public health initiatives. The Irish Heart Foundation has advocated the use of a sugar-sweetened drinks levy to fund a children’s future health fund. The impact of the tax could be further increased by allocating at least a portion of the revenue raised to specific measures to tackle obesity, particularly among children. Future coverage should not neglect the fact the sugar-sweetened drinks tax is recommended by the WHO as one part of the “holistic approach” to tackle childhood obesity, and we hope that the Minister for Finance will make preparations for the revenues from the tax to be used to tackle childhood obesity further. – Yours, etc,

KATHRYN REILLY,

Policy Manager,

Irish Heart,

Ringsend Road,

Dublin 4.