Call for tax on soft drinks

Imposing a 20 per cent tax on Coke and other fizzy soft drinks could save 67 lives a year by reducing ill-health, a New Zealand study has found.

A high sugar intake is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study by Auckland and Otago University researchers said the tax would avert or postpone between 60 and 73 deaths a year from cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes - or about 0.2 per cent of deaths from all causes.

Based on economic survey data showing the effect of varying food prices on household buying, they calculated the tax would reduce daily energy consumption by 0.2 per cent.

The study included artificially sweetened fizzy drinks, as well as the sugary versions because no distinction had been made in the economic data. This is despite the more general push by some public health specialists to encourage consumption of the artificially sweetened drinks as a healthier alternative.

The study follows one published in Britain last year which estimated a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks would reduce the number of obese adults in the country by 1.3 per cent.

That paper reported that soft drink sales taxes in France and Ireland were associated with reductions in consumption, although the health effects had not been studied.

"No significant effect on obesity of US state [soft drink] sales taxes has been found, although the level of taxation there has probably been too low to affect health."

The authors of the New Zealand study say in today's NZ Medical Journal that the young obtain a lot of sugar from drinks - people aged 15 to 18 derive 27 to 29 per cent of their "total sugars" intake from non-alcoholic beverages, and children get nearly a quarter of their total sugar from drinks.

But Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams said taxing the drinks would not put a dent in the country's obesity rate.

He pointed to Denmark which abandoned a tax on saturated fat 15 months after it was established after it was found to have done little to reduce harmful consumption.

"The evidence of failure of putting 'sin taxes' on products when demand is inelastic is overwhelming. The people pushing for these new taxes are taking no account of what actually happens when their policies are tested in the real world.

"Kiwi families already pay too much tax and these academics want to pile on more for life's little luxuries. Politicians will use it as a money grab under the guise of 'harm reduction'," Mr Williams said.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the Government would not be introducing fat or sugar taxes.

Major New Zealand drinks makers also oppose fizzy taxes.

- Martin Johnston of the NZ Herald/APNZ

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