File picture: Uew Hermann

Johannesburg - Key role-players on Monday remained divided over the proposed introduction of a sugar tax to kick in early next year, with one sector of South African society welcoming the possibility of fighting obesity, and others saying the loss of jobs was not worth it.

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Monday was the deadline for submission of views on the implementation of the tax.

Individuals and companies were invited to have their say to the National Treasury.

While that was happening, some stakeholders encouraged those in opposition to make their feelings known by emailing their objections straight to Treasury economist Mpho Legote.

“Email the Treasury and let it know you say no to sugar tax and no to job loses,” a social media message from the Beverages Association of South Africa said in reference to the possible loss of 6 000 jobs.

Small business people, including spaza shop-owners, stand to lose business, they said.

In announcing plans to introduce the tax in his Budget speech in February, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said it would help citizens to fight obesity.

Sugar-sweetened beverages were the target of a 20 percent levy, he said.

According to the Health Department, sugar tax had been tried and tested in many other countries, and had seen results in a noticeable reduction of obesity rates. The tax, the ministry said, could also reduce the effects of non-communicable diseases in South Africa.

Statistics show that South Africa has the highest obesity rate in the region, with 39 percent of women and 11 percent of men being either obese or overweight.

The country is also among the top 10 global consumers of sweet drinks. “Every year we wait, more people will become obese. Soft- drink sales are already projected to grow by 2.4 percent a year from 2015 to 2017,” a submission by the Health Ministry on the reduction of sugar-sweetened beverage intake reads.

The government said its main concern was how the cost of inaction could result in an increase of 16 percent in the number of obese people in the country, 20 percent of which would be due to sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

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