The fight against sugar taxes across the globe
Monday, October 03, 2016
The South African government's proposed tax on sugary drinks has had the local beverage industry boiling, leading them to pour money into fighting the regulations. While this is not the first time a sugar tax is the focal point of a heated debate, it's interesting to note the ripple effect this causes to the beverage industry worldwide.
Almost every country is facing a similar situation where skyrocketing sugar consumption leads to a plague of obesity. This results in billions of dollars spent on healthcare system costs, a rising bill that each government has to pick up.
France passed a tax on sugary drinks in 2012, and Mexico followed in 2013. With the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa seems to have taken a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen how its global counterparts are going to fare.
Just like the tobacco and alcohol campaigns faced stiff protest from the industry, the beverage war seems to have done the same. Many believe the tax is a sign of good things to come, but executives in the industry like Jon Woods, GM of Coca-Cola Great Britain & Ireland, believe this expensive war is unlikely to be successful and is just an opportunistic one to make the industry pay.
Woods mentions how companies offer healthier choices like Diet Coke that give people options to cut back on their sugar consumption. He said creating a tax that penalizes the beverage industry would undermine their efforts to offer more choices to the consumers who have already cut down on their sugar consumption.
He also points out that sugar taxes imposed in other countries have been ineffective. They simply make beverages less affordable and make people turn to junk food like chips and sweets, which are worse for their health.
There may be some truth in what he says, but whether low- or zero-calorie drinks are healthier or actually stem obesity is debatable.
Studies have proven a close correlation between poverty and obesity. The affordability of sodas, junk food and fast food options are a direct cause of obesity — especially childhood obesity. Unless stemmed in time, this will lead to conditions like Type II diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, joint pain, arthritis and even certain cancers.
In light of this information, taxing soda — which is undoubtedly one of the biggest sources of sugar in our diets — seems like a responsible and sensible course of action.
The beverage industry has deep pockets, however. Much deeper than the government or social organizations can ever have. The American Beverage Association and its global counterparts have poured millions of dollars into fighting and defeating sugar taxes.
But health concerns about soda are intensifying. And as consumers become more health conscious, soda consumption is witnessing a dramatic decline.
The whole global health community has been pressing for this. In recent years even celebrities, like TV chef Jamie Oliver, have been among the notable names pushing for awareness of sugar's health effects.
In fact, Oliver introduced a direct sugar levy in his restaurants in the fight against childhood obesity, and his e-petition saw more than 150,000 people backing the tax. Others too have spoken in favor of the tax and urged the hospitality industry and even hospitals to back this up.
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