The Debate: Should the government introduce a tax on sugary drinks to encourage a healthy diet?

Charlie Powell

More often than not, sugary drinks offer no nutritional benefits other than “empty calories” to a nation already suffering high levels of obesity-related diseases and dental decay. So it would be good for our health and the environment if we drank less of them. A 20p per litre sugary drinks duty would both discourage consumption and raise around £1bn a year for policies like providing free healthy school meals and sustainably produced fruit and vegetable snacks in schools. More than 60 organisations back our call for a fund, financed by this duty, to pay for these policies. Diet-related illness affects us all: it already costs the NHS £6bn every year. Further, if left unchecked, 70 per cent of the British public will be overweight by 2020. It is time for the government to put our health interests above the commercial interests of the junk food industry.

Charlie Powell is campaigns director at Sustain.

Eamonn Butler

The hardest-hit will be poorer families. Groceries are a big proportion of their budget. Middle-class campaigners, on the other hand, may not notice the difference. A Singapore study has shown that low-rate sugar taxes are just stealth taxes: people don’t switch. High-rate taxes do make them switch – but only to other, untaxed, sugary drinks. And a tax on some drinks but not others is a menace for shopkeepers. It will spawn a huge bureaucracy to collect it, earmark it, spend it, and monitor it. The Danes had a fat tax, which was so hated that now, a year later, they’ve scrapped it. Meant to hit chips and crisps, it also hit meat and gourmet cheeses, causing serious problems for specialist businesses. We all know “tax creep” – it’s soda today, but what tomorrow? Chocolate? Cream? Cakes? Surely we have had enough of politicians attempting to micro-manage our lives.

Eamonn Butler is director of the Adam Smith Institute.

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