Pressure mounts on government to scrap sugar tax as businesses and industry groups join forces in Face the Facts, Can the Tax campaign

Francesca Washtell
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The sugar levy on soft drinks producers will come into effect in April 2018 (Source: Getty)

Soft drinks producers, off licences, pubs and sugar businesses have launched a new campaign to ramp up calls for the government to scrap its soft drinks levy.

The sugar tax, which was first announced in the March Budget, will be applied to drinks containing more than five grams of sugar per 100ml from April 2018.

The government is widely expected to publish its sugar tax consultation as well as a childhood obesity strategy at some point this week, though City A.M. understands these documents could be published on Thursday.

Associated British Foods-owned British Sugar has joined forces with groups including the British Soft Drinks Association, the British Beer and Pub Association and the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers to launch the Face the Facts, Can the Tax group today.

The campaign members together employ more than 400,000 people across the country.

Read more: Public consultation could introduce sugar advertising crackdown

The new body has warned the sugar tax will "do nothing to tackle obesity", risk thousands of job losses and implement higher prices for soft drinks "for those who can least afford it".

A report released earlier this month by Oxford Economics warned the tax will cost the UK economy £132m and threaten 4,000 jobs.

The same report argued the tax will have a cost saving of just five calories per person, per day.

This is equivalent to one bite of an apple and echoes figures produced by the TaxPayers' Alliance based on data from a similar soft drinks tax in Mexico.

"We absolutely agree with the government that obesity levels are too high and action is needed, but burdening businesses and consumers with an ineffective tax is not the answer," Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said.

"We know from the evidence around the world where they’ve tried a tax that it will not make a difference to obesity.

Read more: Public consultation could introduce sugar advertising crackdown

However, new research released today by market research firm Future Thinking found nearly half of consumers agreed with the sugar tax and a large proportion wanted more products to be added to it.

Four in 10 respondents to a survey of more than 2,000 UK adults said they thought the levy should be expanded to include chocolate and sweets, while 34 per cent said they thought it should include cakes and 32 per cent sweetened breakfast cereals.

"Despite widespread concern by food and drinks industry leaders, the data shows that the Sugar Tax is very popular with consumers," Claudia Strauss, UK managing director at Future Thinking, said.

A Treasury spokesman said of the sugar tax:

The levy is about getting producers to use healthier ingredients to reduce the levels of added sugar in products our children consume. If they reformulate, they won’t have to pay.

Companies have two years before the levy comes into force to adapt, and it’s designed to encourage them to reformulate their products so there is less added sugar in soft drinks.

British children are currently consuming three times the recommended amount of sugar and health experts agree there is a specific problem with sugar-laden soft drinks.