Last October, British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the question of a soda tax in the United Kingdom, where more than a quarter of children are overweight or obese. “The prime minister thinks there are more effective ways of tackling this issue than putting a tax on sugar,” a spokesman said.
On Wednesday, Cameron’s finance minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, introduced a proposal for a national soda tax.
“I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job, and say to my children’s generation, ‘I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing,’ ” Osborne told Parliament.
The tax will have two tiers, with rates based on the amount of sugar contained in beverages, including non-soda items such as sports drinks and smoothies. Drinks with more than 5 grams of added sugar per 100 milliliters will be taxed at the lower rate, which will be bumped up for beverages with more than 8 grams, which includes Coke and Pepsi. The tax should amount to 26 or 34 cents per liter, depending on the sugar content, raising an estimated $742 million in its first year alone. Osborne said the proceeds would go toward funding sports programs at primary schools.
“The food revolution is underway. This feels like a victory for Britain’s children and for everyone who has campaigned so hard for a tax on sugary sweetened drinks,” Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef who has for years been pushing for a soda tax, said in a statement provided to TakePart. “I hope that this bravery will continue to form a part of this Government’s attitude to dealing with obesity.” Oliver’s only criticism is that the revenue isn’t being used to fund food education in schools, another issue he has pushed for.
Oliver’s stance on taxing soda, which he has been advocating for since at least 2010, has become increasingly mainstream in recent years: Mexico passed a national tax in 2014; Berkeley, California, adopted a municipal tax later that year; and numerous other cities, states, and countries are debating similar moves. In a report the government initially refused to publish, Public Health England (which is part of the Department of Health) said last year that a national tax of 10 to 20 percent should be levied on soda, among other recommendations for reducing ballooning obesity rates.
While it’s unlikely that the Labour Party will fight the tax proposal from Cameron’s Conservatives, the beverage industry will—as it has whenever and wherever soda tax proposals crop up.
“We are extremely disappointed by today’s announcement,” Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, a trade group, told The Wall Street Journal. “The imposition of this tax will, sadly, result in less innovation and product reformulation, and for some manufacturers is certain to cost jobs.”
Research on soda taxes suggest that they can and do achieve the primary goal of reducing consumption: According to a study published in the journal BMJ this year, sales of sugary drinks were down 12 percent in Mexico one year after its tax was implemented, while bottled water sales increased by 4 percent.