The United Kingdom has imposed a sugar tax on soft drinks as of April 6. Manufacturers will now have to pay a levy on the high-sugar drinks that they sell. Whether they pass the levy onto consumers will be left to their discretion.
The tax rate will operate proportionally to sugar content. However, certain drinks, such as those with a high milk content or pure fruit juices, will be exempt from the tax on account of their calcium content and lack of added sugar, respectively.
The tax has already had a positive effect, with many large sugar-drink firms such as Fanta, Lucozade, and Ribena already agreeing to reduce the levels of sugar in their drinks ahead of the imposed tax.
The U.K. joins a small number of nations, including France and Norway, who have imposed similar taxes on such beverages.
The decision comes amidst concerns of the astronomical levels of sugar that young people in the country consume and the U.K.’s high levels of obesity. According to Public Health Minister Steve Brine, the nation’s teenagers “consume nearly a bathtub of sugary drinks each year on average.” Brine also made sure to clarify that “the levy is a ground-breaking policy that will help to reduce sugar intake.”
Moreover, Public Health England, an executive agency of the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care, has voiced its hopes that the law will improve the oral health of children. The agency cited figures showing that every 10 minutes, a child has to have a tooth removed because of decay. The agency’s Dr. Sandra White, who has urged families to swap soft drinks for water and milk, noted that it was “upsetting to see so many children admitted to hospital with tooth decay.”
Furthermore, Dr. Rachel Nugent, vice president of the global health charity RTI International, commented that “taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains, and the evidence shows these can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society.”
In response to the tax, estimates by the Treasury based on market data suggest that 50 percent of manufacturers have reduced the sugar content of their drinks. Some products, however, are expected to become more expensive without changing their sugar levels. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola announced that it would be cutting the size of its 1.75-liter bottle to 1.5 liters and simultaneously increasing the price, decided not to change its recipe, claiming that “people love the taste and have told [them]not to change.”
The practicality of the tax has raised some skepticism. Nutrition expert Dr. Daniel Bailey from the University of Bedfordshire has said that while the idea is a positive step towards tackling the obesity epidemic, the question remains about whether or not more expensive products “will…actually discourage people from buying them.” Further data from the research firm Mintel confirms this concern, finding that just under half of Britons say that taxing unhealthy products would encourage them to cut back on consuming them.