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Health activists lobby for substantial hike in SA sugar tax to 20%

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:

Activists have submitted a memorandum to Treasury, calling for an increase on the Health Promotion Levy from 11% to 20%.

Health-e News reports that the levy, also known as the sugary drinks tax, is currently 11% and the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is demanding that it be increased by an additional 9% which will put the levy at 20%.

According to the organisation, the increase in the levy by April 1 will assist in reducing the high number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke, which are currently regarded as a burden to the health system.

Mandla Magaza, an activist for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Tembisa branch, says that the increase will cement government’s commitment to addressing NCDs. “For us, it is difficult because during clinic hours, we do health talks and it sometimes becomes a challenge to encourage healthy eating when unhealthy foods such as sugary drinks are not taxed as they should be, and are readily available. The tax increase would make it easy for us to spread the message on healthy eating as we would have government’s full support when it comes to discouraging people from consuming sugary drinks.”

While delivering the memorandum, HEALA informed representatives from Treasury about public support shown in a petition on Amandla.mobi, which received over 11 000 signatures in support of expanding sugary drinks tax to fruit juices.

“We call Minister Tito Mboweni to commit to this in the upcoming Budget Policy Statement. Unlike the VAT hike which we were not consulted on, a sugary drinks tax has public support and means healthier people and more funding for health,” says HEALA programme manager, Lawrence Mbalati.

Treasury chief of staff Marlon Geswint received the memorandum on behalf of the minister and gave assurance that he would share the document with relevant role-players.

Following a study done by PRICELESS (Priority Cost Effective Lessons for System Strengthening) which found that the HPL resulted in higher prices for sugary drinks, and untaxed healthier beverages like water did not increase in price.

“This is a first indication that the tax could motivate consumers to pick healthier options that are not taxed rather than taxed sugary drinks, which is very encouraging,” adds Mbalati.

In 2018, South Africa became the first African country to introduce a sugar tax, known as the Health Promotion Levy, reports Business Day. The government’s aim was to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks, and incentivise manufacturers to reformulate their products to contain less sugar.

The levy, implemented in April 2018, was initially set at 2.1c per gramme of sugar per 100ml above a 4g threshold. It was increased to 2.2c a year later.

“The sugary drinks industry such as Coca-Cola have pushed back on the original call for a 20% tax to a point where the government compromised on an 11% tax. We are continuing our call for the tax to be increased so there can be real results,” Mbalati.

HEALA said it was calling for an expansion of the sugary drinks tax to include fruit juices because although they have been punted as a healthier alternative to fizzy drinks this was not the case.

Contrary to claims made by opponents to the sugar tax, it had not led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in associated industries, said Karen Hofman, director of the Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science. An analysis of Stats SA’s quarterly labour force survey found employment had remained largely consistent with the trends before the implementation of the tax, she said.

Full Health-e News report

Full Business Day report

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