Calls for Asian sugar tax as Kiwi review awards poor marks to Mexico

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: sugar tax, Soft drink

The World Health Organisation has asked countries on the west side of the Pacific to consider imposing a tax on all soft drinks in a bid to tackle rising rates of obesity. 

The WHO’s call was heard following a workshop in Manila, which largely blamed sugar-sweetened beverages for weight issues. It urged countries to implement comprehensive tax policies to reduce sugar consumption.

The value of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages lies not only in the potential health benefits, but also the enormous revenue-raising potential​, ” Shin Young-soo, the WHO’s regional director for the western Pacific, said. 

Tax revenues may be channelled for health promotion activities, potentially resulting in additional health benefits for the public​.” 

According to WHO estimates, as many as 77% of adolescents in some parts of the western Pacific drink at least one carbonated soft drink a day. 

More than 6.2m children under five years of age are overweight in the region, while one in four people are said to be overweight. The rates for both of these are increasing at an alarming rate, the WHO said.

Governments in the Philippines and Indonesia are currently looking at sugar tax proposals at an early stage of progress. Although the Hong Kong government has not implemented any sugar tax, it set up a committee last year to study ways to reduce sugar and salt. Lawmakers in Thailand appear increasingly interested by sugar tax proposals.

Meanwhile, a leading opponent of the sugar tax argument has published an analysis of Mexican data before, during and after the country adopted its own levy.

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council and a regular commentator on the issue, claimed that Mexico’s sugar tax had not reduced consumption by even one sip per person in the two years since it was introduced. 

This analysis was according to independent sales figures obtained from Nielsen. The global research company found that sales of sugar-sweetened beverages dropped by just 0.5% between 2013 and 2015 (from the year before the tax to one year after it was implemented).

The implementation of the policy in 2014 saw a significant fall in sales, though this returned to a regular pattern a year later. Compared to 2013’s yearly sales, last year’s total dropped by just 59.7m in a 10.7bn market.

Rich said: “To put this decline in percentage terms into perspective, it’s a fraction of the 4.7% decline in consumption of carbonated drinks seen in the New Zealand market over the past 12 months—which has occurred without any tax at all​.

Those clinging to the pipedream that the Mexico tax is what success looks like as a public health intervention need to realise that the tiny reduction in litres amounts to not even one sip per person.​” she added.

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