Picture: Armand Hough
Picture: Armand Hough

Bitter-sweet support for planned 'sugar tax'

By Andrea Chotia Time of article published Feb 15, 2017

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Institutions like the University of Stellenbosch and civil societies such as the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala), expressed their support for the proposed "sugar tax" at the National Assembly’s portfolio committees on finance and health’s public hearings on Tuesday.

Public health specialist trainees at the University of Stellenbosch supported the intent of a proposed sugar tax as they felt it would combat obesity.

According to a presentation, trainees said: “The growing body of evidence (identifies) obesity as a major risk factor and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) as a driver of the obesity epidemic.”

Trainees also outlined that a fiscal measure that attempted to change both consumer behaviour and manufacturer practices would have a greater impact than a measure directed at the consumer alone.

“We support a levy based on absolute sugar content targeting the consumer and an additional component that specifically targets manufacturers, which exceed a prescribed sugar content threshold,” trainees said in a presentation.

It was also communicated in their presentation that any revenue as a result of sugar tax, should be ring-fenced.

Read also: Health economist backs sugar tax proposal

“At least a portion of the foreseen revenue should be ring-fenced and linked to the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.”

Overall, the presentation stated that: “We support the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax and view the proposed policy as an opportunity to prevent significant harm and promote wellness.”

Although the Economics of Tobacco Control Project (ETCP) based at the University of Cape Town had a main focus on tobacco control, it expressed its strong interest in the general health of the public.

Principal investigator for the ETCP, Corne van Walbeek said: “Public health concerns also drove the decision to raise the excise tax on tobacco products in the 1990s and as a result, there has been a dramatic fall in smoking prevalence.”

Walbeek explained that by taxing the quantity of sugar content, rather than the volume, the National Treasury incentivises SSB producers to reduce the sugar content in their products.

It would then reduce the demand for SSBs, by raising the price of the product and it would reduce the detrimental health impact of the SSBs by incentivising producers to reduce the sugar content of their products.

Walbeek explained although “predictions that up to 60000 jobs could be lost because of this tax,” the tobacco companies had not suffered.

“Despite the scare tactics, the legislation was passed and the population has benefited greatly from smoke-free places and not being bombarded with tobacco advertising.

"The dire predictions made by the tobacco industry did not come to pass,” added Walbeek.

In alliance with 10 health and social justice organisations, Heala was compelled to support the suggested sugar tax and increase the health of an increasingly obese South African population.

Heala member Tracey Malawana said: “Taxing sugary drinks lowers the consumption of these unhealthy beverages (and) increase the sales and consumption of healthier alternatives, and do not result in revenue losses for businesses or job losses.”

Heala proposed that a higher level of R0.0344 per gram of sugar, instead of the proposed R 0.0229 would better enhance the chances of reaching the goal of slowing down and reversing the rising rates of obesity in the national population.

“We would recommend that this revenue is directed at obesity prevention and health promotion efforts,” said Malawana.

Heala collected 326 signatures of people who have pledged their support in favour of the sugary drinks tax.

“We believe that this intervention is an essential step and tool towards preventing disease and achieving a healthier nation,” added Malawana.


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