Sugar Tax: the moment of truth

Last week Irn-Bru manufacturer A.G.Barr announced plans to halve the sugar content from 10g per 100ml to just below 5g. Only a few months earlier LSR, the makers of Lucozade and Ribena announced a similar reformulation to below 5g per 100ml, as did Tesco’s on all 251 of its own-brand soft drinks.

I not sure how much sugar that’s taking out of the nation’s diet but with combined sales of over £1bn a year it’s got to be a small mountain of the pure, white and deadly. The sugar lobby must be fuming.

Given that soft drinks accounts for 25% of the added sugar consumed by British adults this is great news for us trying to prevent diabetes.

What’s going on? This, my friends, is the sugar tax in action, as drinks below 5g per 100ml will not be levied.

The sugar tax is what behaviour designers like to call a “nudge”. When you reach into the fridge and see that high sugar sodas are notably more expensive than the lower sugar alternatives the subliminal part of your brain makes a connection. Why is that more expensive?…That’s because there’s a tax on it…That’s because it is unhealthy. These subliminal influences deeply impact decision making. We know it worked in Mexico.

The soft drinks lobby know this, and they are not happy. The levy effectively classifies sugary soft drinks with tobacco and alcohol, as the “sin” products considered such a risk to public health as to warrant a punitive tax. This is the top of a slippery slope, their very worst nightmare when high sugar products are seen in the same light as tobacco leading to advertising bans, health warnings and class action lawsuits.

The good guys are doing the right thing, they are reformulating. Others are busy scheming to dodge the impact of the tax. Rather than taxing high sugar drinks at point of sale the government are planning to levy the tax directly on the manufacturer. So here is the ruse, rather than apply the tax only to the high sugar drinks they want freedom to absorb the cost of the levy across all their products and so null the price differential effect.

This move will serious reduce the benefit for the nation’s health, and starts to look more like a government fund raising exercise. Maybe the £500m per year levy is just the price agreed for dropping all the other meaningful measures from the childhood obesity strategy.

We’ll know more when Chancellor announces his budget this week.


Recent Posts