Johnson under fire for “short-sighted” ‘sin tax’ promise

A pledge by Boris Johnson to review the tax on sugary drinks if he becomes prime minister has been criticised by health experts.

The Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) described Johnson’s proposal to launch a comprehensive review into the effectiveness of so-called ‘sin taxes’, including products high in salt, fat or sugar, as “short-sighted” and urged him to reconsider.

Johnson is running off against foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for leadership of the Conservative Party with the winner set to become the UK’s next prime minister.

The former Mayor of London has also promised not to increase any sin taxes, or introduce similar taxes, until a review has been completed.

The Soft Drinks Industry Levy came into force in April 2018 and has proven effective in encouraging manufacturers to reformulate their products with a glut of low-sugar or sugar-free products coming on to the market in the past year. As a consequence, the revenue expected from the levy has fallen by almost half, from £500m a year when it was first announced to £275m at the end of 2017.

Expressing her disappointment at the news, Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said tackling the obesity epidemic required radical action. “We should be building on the success of the sugar levy, not turning back the clock on the progress that has been made so far,” Cramer said. “The success of fiscal measures in supporting the public’s health has been demonstrated in other areas such as tobacco and alcohol taxation.”

The National Institute for Health Research is in the process of carrying out a study to evaluate the impact of the sugar levy. It will use retail data to explore the price, sugar content, and range of drinks available prior to the levy being announced and after its introduction, along with government data to study effects of the levy on diet, childhood obesity, and hospital admissions for tooth decay.

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