South Africans will start paying tax on sugary drinks from 1 April 2018, according to an Act gazetted on 14 December, reports Health-e News. According to the Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment of Revenue Laws Act, a “health promotion levy” will be introduced on this date. With this levy, the first 4 grams of sugar per 100ml are to be exempt. Thereafter, a tax of 2.1c per gram of sugar will be levied. This works out to be a tax of approximately 10% of a can of Coca Cola.
According to the Act, if a manufacturer does not provide information on the sugar content of its drink, the drink will be taxed based on a default rate of 20g of sugar per 100ml.
The report says the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) welcomed the promulgation of the health promotion levy, which introduces a tax on sugary drinks. “We applaud the leadership of this country for prioritising the health of millions of South Africans over the narrow interests of the beverage and sugar industries,” said HEALA co-ordinator Tracey Malawana. “While the levy is a victory for public health, we still believe that it should be increased to 20% in order for it to have a significant impact.”
The report says sugary drinks play a major role in obesity, and a range of related diseases including diabetes, hypertension, strokes and cancer.
“HEALA will continue to advocate for a stronger tax in the coming year and we will also be monitoring government spending to ensure that the proceeds from the tax will be spent on health promotion,” added Malawana, saying that her organisation wanted a 20% tax on sugary drinks. This is the first step in the right direction for South Africa to tackle its burden of non-communicable diseases and obesity.”
The report says the Beverage Association of SA (BevSA) has campaigned relentlessly against the tax, which is says is “punitive” and will hurt the economy and not address obesity. However, Malawana said it is a tax that no one needs to pay if they can curb their sweet tooth.
The fact that sugary drinks are a major cause of obesity and diabetes came into focus at the recent Cardio Vascular Disease Imbizo . Health-e News reports that speaking at the Imbizo, Lynn Moeng Mahlangu, the cluster manager of health promotion and nutrition at the National Health Department, said that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or SSBs has strongly been linked with type 2 diabetes.
“In 2013 the Department of Health developed a strategy to tackle non-communicable diseases, and one of the keys was to reduce sugar intake by 10%,” she said. Moeng Mahlangu said that South Africa is in the top three countries in Africa when it comes to people living with obesity.
She said one of the reasons for this is the high cost of healthy food. “People choose healthy products because they are cheaper,” said Moeng Mahlangu. “This is one of the debates we are having, involving other departments like agriculture,” she said.
“Our children are consuming 40-to-60 grams of sugar a day. This means their intake is between 100 and 200% more than they should,” she said. She said this was a dangerous situation as obese children generally tended to remain obese throughout life, and much of this was due to the consumption of sugary drinks.
According to Professor Karen Sliwa, director of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa and president-elect of the World Heart Federation, there is overwhelming data to confirm that a very high sugar intake has a negative impact on health. “It is bad in many ways. It makes us obese, especially when we don’t move enough,” she said. “You can develop diabetes, high blood pressure, you can develop heart disease or have a stroke,” said Sliwa, adding that these factors can lead to long periods of ill health or early death.
According to Sliwa, implementing a tax on sugar tax is one way of trying to combat this disease, as making SSBs more expensive would drive down consumption. “By decreasing the amount of sugar in beverages we can address some of those issues,” she said, adding that a sugar tax alone was not enough to address the problem properly.
“Although the sugar beverage tax will hopefully show the same results experienced in other countries where it saw a decrease in obesity, the core issues around poverty still needed to be looked at,” said Sliwa.
She said it was important for government to take the lead and make South Africa one of the first countries in Africa to implement the tax. Sliwa said that educating the people on healthy living was important.
“Some people don’t know that if you are short of breath it can mean that your heart is failing. People don’t know that there is no cure for diabetes and that you always have to take your medication,” she said.
Professor Liesl Zuhlke, president of the South African Heart Association said the health of children needed to be made a priority. “If you are fat at 13 years, it’s possible that you will stay fat until you are old,” she said, explaining why children needed to be taught to make good choices for themselves.