Not sweet on sugar tax

19 August 2016 - 03:53 By KATHARINE CHILD

The beverage industry has launched a full-scale assault on the planned sugar tax and Thursday gathered with Alexandra residents to detail the calamity they claim the new levy will cause to the poor. The meeting was co-ordinated with the help of the beverage industry's public relations team and Coca-Cola, which admitted in a press release to "leading" the meeting.Vincent Sithole, of the SA National Civic Organisation, said his spaza shop would be hard hit by a roughly 20% increase in sweetened cool drink prices - saying customers would stop buying sodas."I know my people. I know what they want," he said.There was some confusion about the tax, with Veronica Ngomezulu Lebeone, spokesman of Alexandra Property Owners' Rights Organisation, saying she believed sugar was being taxed."Sugar prices are going up. I have got a lot of grandchildren. We use sugar every day."The proposed tax is linked to the amount of sugar in beverages and would see price rises for fizzy drinks, excluding fruit juice, by about 20% to 25%.Lebeone also said she did not see the value of reducing sugar intake to improve health."I am 69. I have sugar every day. I am fit as a fiddle," she declared.Another member of the organisation, Thabo Mokhine, said politicians only met residents at election time and did not go door to door when it planned changes to laws."The government should have consulted the end- users - the people who drink beverages."The reputation of our government for undermining the masses has gone too far," he added.Mokhine said he would be submitting a comment to Treasury about the lack of consultation over the tax.The comment period closes on Monday.A beverages industry study says 60000 jobs could be lost due to the tax, despite that it directly employs only about 14600 people.In some press releases, Coca-Cola revised its estimate to 70000 jobs.An Oxford Economics study to back up this data is still being finalised and is not yet public."Oxford Economics calculates a weighted average price increase for drinks of 25.1% that would result in a 36.6% drop in sales volumes of beverages," said FTI Consulting, a company that represents the beverage industry.But these job-loss figures are speculative and any study commissioned by industry should be considered with caution, says Aviva Tugendhaft, researcher at Wits research unit Priceless, whose work was used to show sugar tax would reduce obesity in about 220000 individuals.

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