Sugar-sweetened drinks provide energy with little or no nutrients. A higher cost, it is argued, should discourage consumption. Governments in New Zealand and Australia, however, have been reluctant to pursue the tax, at least for now. They have good reasons.
First is the issue of how much difference a tax would make. To really affect consumption it would have to be large, especially to significantly affect prices for the large drink containers from supermarkets. And it is always likely to be much cheaper than milk. Consumers could also just shift to the cheapest brands.
As with so many “worthy” social causes, the poor will be hit hardest. The educated middle classes are already likely to have limited consumption.
An Australian health survey found sugar drinks contributed only 3.2% of total energy intake, and numbers drinking them and the amount they drink has been falling. Among discretionary foods, sugar drinks were actually seventh in energy supply – after confectionery, sweet biscuits, alcohol, pizza, burgers and tacos, pastries and fried potatoes.
In NZ it is even lower. Off memory sugary drinks are under 2% of total energy intake.
It is too easy to call for the Government to step in to “fix” problems. Surely, that should be considered last after other options. Surely, within limits, freedom of choice and action and personal responsibility are worthwhile ideals. A new form of puritanism appears rampant.
Yep. Back to the 1930s!
Where, too, should such a tax end? In the spirit of battling obesity, why not tax sugar in sauces, confectionery, ice cream? Why not tax saturated fat? Denmark tried a fat tax before rejecting it. What about double extra taxes on alcohol, one for the damage drunk people cause and its direct health impact, and one for sugar content?
Don’t give them ideas!
Sugar-sweetened drinks are an issue. But before taxes are imposed, it is worthwhile intensifying pressure on manufacturers to reduce sugar quantities. Education efforts can be stepped up and “switch to water” campaigns initiated. Schools can be encouraged, as some already do, to introduce water-only policies. An icon on drinks might help, showing how many teaspoons of sugar are in each.
Excessive sugar consumption is serious. But sugar should not be viewed as an evil poison because in moderation it is not a problem. Taxes should be a last resort.