Three out of four South African adults are supportive of government’s efforts to enforce policies that will discourage people from consuming sugary drinks and junk food.
Health-e News reports that this is the outcome of a survey conducted during July, which found that public backing for government interventions to curb the national obesity epidemic has increased significantly. This shift is believed to have happened during parliament’s deliberations on the tax on sugary beverages, proposed by Treasury in the 2017/18 national budget.
The report says the sugary drinks tax now has the support of seven out of 10 South Africans, if the revenue collected is invested in programmes to benefit the public. A total of 58% of survey participants approved of the new tax unconditionally, while only 29% opposed it and the remaining respondents being neutral.
Support for the tax has grown in recent months. A comparable survey conducted last October found that 42% of respondents favoured a sugary drinks tax. “The debate on the proposed tax on sugary drinks has certainly raised public awareness of the sheer sugar-load that these drinks carry and their harmful impact on health,” said Tracey Malawana, coordinator of the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), a network of health organisations that commissioned the opinion survey. “Most people would clearly welcome government using its muscle in a protective way to reduce sales of sugary drinks. They have totally got the idea that this is a well-intentioned tax that could improve the health of the nation.”
The survey was conducted for HEALA by Johannesburg-based Genesis Analytics, in conjunction with the international consultancy, Vital Strategies. The survey sample consisted of 1,000 respondents, representative of the adult population in the metropolitan areas of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
The survey also found that about six out of 10 people are “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about the harm caused by sugary drinks to their health and the health of children. Nearly nine out of 10 respondents admitted thinking now and then about the health impact of sugary drinks.
“It is striking that the majority of people felt their own health was at risk due to drinking sugar-laden drinks. This issue is something personal – it’s not someone else’s problem,” said Dr Saul Johnson, head of health practice at Genesis Analytics in the report. He said there was strong approval for government action to combat obesity and to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods, and this meant people were expecting government to lead the way in the fight against diabetes.
Implementation of the health promotion levy — previously known as the sugar-sweetened beverages tax — will, meanwhile, be delayed until April 2018, Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat is quoted in a Business Day report as saying.
The proposed tax, which was initially due to come into effect in April, and then June 2017, has been subjected to extensive consultations both in Parliament and in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), which is close to finalising an agreement between the government, business and labour on measures to mitigate the effect of the proposed tax on jobs and on the sugar industry as a whole.
The tax was first announced by then finance minister Pravin Gordhan in his budget of February 2016 and a draft policy paper was published for public comment in July 2016. Further public comment was invited earlier in 2017 on the draft Rates and Monetary Amounts Amendment Bill, which contained the proposal to tax the sugar content of beverages at a rate of 2.1c/g above the threshold of 4g/ 100ml. This was a revision of the original proposal of a 2.29c tax per gram of sugar, which was equal to a rate of about 20%.
The report says beverages that will be exempt from the tax are 100% fruit and vegetable juices, which will be considered for taxation at a later stage, and milk products with no added sugar.
The Treasury has proposed the tax as a way of reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages which contribute to noncommunicable diseases and obesity. Momoniat and Treasury director for VAT, excise duties and subnational taxes Mpho Legote briefed a joint meeting of Parliament’s finance and health committees on the Nedlac agreement thrashed out by a task team.
Several departments collaborated on a government proposal to mitigate job losses and create new jobs which would apply to the whole value chain, the report says.
The plan includes urgent short-and medium-term interventions such as trade remedies to assist the declining sugar industry, including tariffs to address cheap imports.
Momoniat said the problems facing the sugar industry pre-existed the introduction of the health promotion levy, with ANC MP Derek Hanekom adding that the levy proposal might act as a welcome catalyst to tackle these problems. The beverage industry would also need to come to the party by reformulating its drinks to contain less sugar, Legote said.