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Two years on from the sugar tax – is it working?


  Posted by: The Probe      6th August 2019

A newly qualified dentist, Charlotte Gentry gives her view on the controversial measure.

I was out for lunch with my mum recently and it sparked a debate on the sugar tax. I actually don’t like sugary fizzy drinks and have always opted for the diet version, as has my mum. We were somewhere you can help yourself to ‘unlimited’ drinks, and saw the drinks containing sugar, rightfully so, had an extra 30p added on to the price. I pointed out that there was nothing stopping somebody ordering a diet drink and then helping themselves to their preferred sugary alternative, if they are dishonest of course. We then went on to think – would 30p make that much of a difference if somebody was getting exactly what they wanted?

I support the sugar tax, definitely. If there is a public health policy such as this that can be utilised to encourage a healthier lifestyle that has numerous health benefits, then why not? However, whether or not it is, or will work, is up for debate.

Let’s, for instance, compare the sugar tax to a higher branded food item, or cigarettes, for example. You’re out shopping and there are two different types of the food you want to buy – to you, one of them tastes far superior to the other and there is 30p difference. That 30p isn’t going to deter most people from buying something they feel is more appealing. Cigarettes are different, as they are highly addictive. Therefore, the huge amount of tax slapped onto the price still doesn’t have a huge impact on people still smoking – if someone wants a cigarette they will pay whatever the price to get one.

However, you could argue that those areas of society who consume more sugary foods and drinks may be on a lower income and actually, this small increase in price may impact their weekly food spend, thus encouraging them to try cheaper, healthier alternatives.

I’ve looked for data to see if the consumption of sugary food and drinks has lowered since the introduction of the sugar tax, and have found it difficult to come across any at all.

In my opinion, taxing things such as sugar and cigarettes may have a small role in helping people make healthier choices, however, I feel that we healthcare professionals could have a far larger impact. I think using education to inform people of the dangers of obesity, consuming too much sugar and smoking, for example, can have a far larger public health impact. I truly believe that financial pressures applied by tax are not what deter people from buying something they want. Just as smoking cessation is a huge part of our daily practice, I feel even more focus should be put onto dietary advice. Of course, we all provide advice to those at high caries risk, or admit to a high sugar diet, however I feel we could give this advice far more broadly to help reduce the amount of sugar consumed amongst our population.

It is well known that many people don’t know where hidden sugars lie – I surprise myself sometimes when I check food labels. By educating ourselves in order to educate others I feel we could have a far larger impact on sugar consumption than a small tax applied to sugary drinks.

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