In introducing the tax on drinks containing high levels of sugar, the UK follows countries such as Mexico, France and Norway. Public health minister Steve Brine welcomed the move, saying: “Our teenagers consume nearly a bathtub of sugary drinks each year on average, fuelling a worrying obesity trend. The levy is a ground-breaking policy that will help to reduce sugar intake.”
The British Dental Association described the levy as an “excellent first step” but called for additional measures such as tighter controls on advertising and applying the tax to sugary foods as well as drinks.
Manufacturers will now be liable to a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre on drinks containing more than 8g of sugar per 100ml. A lower rate of 18p per litre will apply to drinks containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml.
An initial Treasury forecast of annual earnings in excess of £500 million from the tax has been revised down to £240 million after manufacturers such as Ribena and Lucozade reduce the sugar content in their drinks. Figures show that half of all manufacturers have reduced the sugar content in their drinks to avoid paying the levy.
It is up to manufacturers whether they absorb the levy or pass it on to customers in the form of higher prices. Some have warned that consumers may simply pay the additional cost, with the University of Bedfordshire’s Dr Daniel Bailey asking: “The increase in tax placed on soft drinks will make products more expensive, but will this actually discourage people from buying them?”
To coincide with the policy launch, Public Health England has released figures showing the impact sugar has on the nation’s oral health – such as the fact that every 10 minutes a child in England has a tooth removed due to preventable tooth decay.
Dr Sandra White, dental health lead for PHE said: “It’s upsetting to see so many children admitted to hospital with tooth decay, but swapping out sugary drinks could be an easy win for busy families.”