Proposed tax will discourage poor from drinking more harmful sugary drinks: expert

05 October 2016 - 17:45 By Ernest Mabuza
The WHO has issued new guidelines on sugar consumption.
The WHO has issued new guidelines on sugar consumption.
Image: AFP Relaxnews ©JPC-PROD/shutterstock.com

The proposed introduction of tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is hopefully going to stop the poor from drinking more sugary drinks which are harmful to their health.

This is the view of Prof Karen Hofman‚ director of Priceless SA‚ an organisation which enables smart decisions about health investments in South Africa.

Hofman‚ who was addressing a journalism training workshop on obesity prevention in Johannesburg on Wednesday‚ said excess sugar consumption was a major cause of obesity‚ and said liquid sugar was much worse for the body than the solid sugar in the way it was absorbed by the body.

She said studies had shown that poor people smoked less in South Africa because of tax on tobacco products.

“What we are hoping is to stop the poor from drinking more sugary drinks‚” Hofman said.

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She said between 1993 and 2009‚ the per capita consumption of tobacco product decreased by 50%.

Hofman said the proposed introduction of tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was one of the least fiscal measures that were cost effective in fighting obesity at 20c.

She said other measures such as food advertising regulation cost more at 90c‚ food labelling at R2.50 and physician counselling at R11.80.

She said the cost of inaction in challenging obesity through the proposed tax would result in a 16% increase in obesity by 2017.

She said mostly young people would be affected.

“The poor‚ who are price sensitive‚ would respond to this tax by consuming no or fewer sugar sweetened beverages.‚” Hofman said.

Ismail Momoniat‚ deputy national director at the National Treasury‚ said the aim of the proposed tax was to address socio-economic costs.

“Using fiscal measures to promote health and prevent diseases and raise revenue is not a new idea‚” Momoniat said.

Momoniat said the proposed draft policy paper that was published in July for public comment‚ proposed a 2‚29c (under 3c) tax for every gram of sugar per litre of sugar-sweetened beverage.

This would equate to a tax of R2.29 per litre for a litre of sugary sweetened drink‚ he said.

Momoniat said Treasury had not put an estimate on how much the tax would bring to the fiscus‚ and said the tax which would be raised had not been earmarked for any specific health programme or any use.

Momoniat said the announcement on the tax would be made in the Budget in February next year and Treasury had every intention to start taxation on April 1 2017.

He said sugar tax was not intended as a revenue raising instrument‚ but was driven by a broader set of measures to deal with obesity.

The intent is to provide information that will improve the way in which resources are allocated and priorities are set to improve public health.

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Aparna Kollipara‚ director of health in the National Treasury‚ said since 2009‚ non-communicable diseases-related deaths‚ some of which were caused by obesity-related illnesses‚ killed more South Africans than communicable diseases.

“Non-communicable diseases are killing South Africans.”

She said in 2011‚ the cost of diagnosing and treating non-communicable diseases among insured South Africans was R8bn‚ and no figures were available on public spending.

The workshop earlier heard that South Africa had a high number of obese people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Sundeep Ruder‚ an endocrinologist‚ said about 70% of South African women were overweight or obese.

He said one in four girls and one in five boys aged between 2 and 14 were obese in South Africa.

Ruder said these children were likely to suffer a number of conditions in their young adult years.

Ruder said a number of medical complications caused by obesity included pulmonary diseases‚ stroke‚ cataracts‚ a number of cancers and gall bladder disease.

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