Growing chorus of support for SA’s sugar tax

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Academics from leading universities around the world have added their voices to the call for the implementation of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) in South Africa, says a Cape Times report.

The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine, New York University, University of London, Oxford University, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública and public Health Associations in Australia and Quebec are all signatories in an open letter in support of the tax.

Locally, the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University have also stated the science on the role of SSBs is clear – excess sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and related diseases.

They maintain excess sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and related diseases, including an increased risk of diabetes, liver and kidney damage, heart disease and some cancers.

The report says between 2001 and 2015, sales of sugary drinks in South Africa grew by over 65%. Simultaneously between 1998 and 2012, obesity grew from 30% to 39.2% among women and from 7.5% to 10.6% among men.

“Sugary drink taxes are a winning solution for governments as they reduce consumption while increasing revenue. Studies have demonstrated a 20% tax on sugary drinks in SA could reduce obesity prevalence by 3.8% among men and 2.4% among women, and raise annual revenues of R6.4bn, which could be used to address obesity and related diseases. The tax also increases consumption of healthier beverages, such as water and milk,” the letter reads.

The report quotes BevSA as saying that the non-alcoholic beverage industry is a key driver of the economy, contributing R60bn to SA’s GDP and supporting about 294,000 jobs. BevSA says the proposed SSB tax could trigger tens of thousands of job losses and equates to a 25 percent weighted average price increase for SSBs.

Professor Karen Hofman, of the Wits school of public health, however, said job losses estimated by beverage companies are seriously exaggerated. “Beverage companies have done this consistently around the globe each time tax is suggested. They manufacture job loss issues. In any jurisdiction where tax has been introduced, there has been no job losses,” she said in the report, adding that instead consumers would switch to other drinks marketed by the same beverage companies.

“This is about profit over health. Experiences from other countries around the globe have indicated that this is an important thing to do, and it works.”

Cape Times report

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