Popping the fizz on the Sugar Tax!

Cara Cunningham, MINDI, Community Dietitian

May 1 is D-day for the Sugar Tax in Ireland, officially named the ‘Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax’ (SSDT for short ). This will mean we have to pay more for the sugary drinks we consume.

Here is the low down on what it may mean for us.

How much will we have to pay?

The sugar tax is levied by volume, with two taxing levels. Drinks containing more than 5gs and less than 8gs of sugar per 100mls will be taxed at 20 cent (including VAT ) per litre. This means a 500ml bottle going from approximately €1.35 to €1.45 after May 1, assuming all costs are passed on to the consumer.

Drinks containing more than 8g of sugar per 100mls will be taxed at 30 cent (including VAT ). This means a 500ml bottle going from approximately €1.35 to €1.50, again assuming all costs are passed on to the consumer.

Sugar Tax will not apply to fruit and/or vegetable juices unless sugar has been added to these products. Dairy products, soya, nut, cereal or seed based ‘milk substitute’ drinks are not included in this tax, and neither are alcoholic drinks or non-alcoholic beers and wines.

Will this tax change the way that drinks are made?

Already, some manufacturers have changed their product composition so that they fall into either a non-taxed category (less than 5gs per 100mls ) or into the lower category (over 5gs, less than 8gs of sugar per 100mls ).

Many of these changes have only been made in the last 18 months, with many consumers not noticing such changes, so in this way the sugar tax has been a positive force in helping to persuade manufacture to produce a ‘healthier’ product. Other manufactures have already reduced the sizes of the drinks sold to customers.

Will all this really impact on our health?

Most of us are eating too many calories, most days. The START campaign has just reported that the average family spend €1,035 per year on treats. Fizzy drinks make up part of this.

Drinking less sugary drinks will cut the amount of calories you get, which is good. But this tax does not ban us from drinking these products, it only puts the prices up. The big question is, will that make us think twice about choosing these drinks?

Many people say that the rise in obesity tracks the rise in the amount of sugary beverages drunk by us. But, in reality, as a nation a lot of us eat and drink too much of everything! However, an article in the British Medical Journal has estimated that a sugar tax in the UK could lead to 200,000 cases of obesity being prevented or delayed.

We can learn from what has happen in Mexico, who have had a sugar tax in place since 2014. By the end of the first year, Mexicans were consuming 12 per cent fewer sugary beverages, and it seemed that people in Mexico switched to water. However, it is too early to say if this has had any major impact on the population’s weight.

How much money will this measure raise?

The Government predicts that it will raise around €30 million in 2018 from this tax and this will rise to around €40million in a full year.

That is a lot of money, and it would be great if this was ring-fenced for healthy policies. The Mexican tax raised a whopping €775million in its first full year, and this money was spent to ensure all schools had free drinking water and also to introduce other anti-obesity measures.

If you want to avoid paying more for your drink, the best option is to go for a non-sugary option, or better still head for water. It is good for both your pocket and your health.

For more information or for more information on diet and nutrition, contact: The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster, on (044 ) 9395518 or email [email protected].

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