WHO Support for Soda Taxes

The World Health Organisation has published a global list of countries in its WHO Manual that have introduced taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and is calling on all countries to tax sugar drinks in order to save lives.

Eighty-five countries are listed as having some form of sugar taxation in the WHO Manual, with several countries highlighted who have successfully imposed a tax on sugar based beverages.

According to Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO: “Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages can be a powerful tool to promote health because they save lives and prevent disease, while advancing health equity and mobilizing revenue for countries that could be used to realize universal health coverage.”

WHO cite the success of tobacco and alcohol taxes as cost-effective examples that have prevented diseases, injuries, and premature mortality.

The experience of many PDGN members is mixed with some suggesting the tax has made little or no appreciable difference to human behaviour but all admit its impact on companies reducing sugar levels in their products.

Our members also report difficulties ensuring tax revenues are used to inform, educate and assist in the prevention of obesity as was often promised before the tax was introduced.

Public support for such taxes to help prevent non-communicable diseases such as diabetes is high, as a recent a recent Gallup Poll found.

There is also powerful opposition to such taxes, especially from sugar producers. In South Africa, where the countries statistics agency found around 31 percent of men and 68 percent of women in the county were obese, the Canegrowers Association has asked the Government to scrap the sugar tax — or at least suspend tax increases. The association said it made its views known to the Government “in light of the crisis in which the South African sugar industry finds itself and the fact that, to date, there is no evidence that the tax has had a positive impact on obesity levels in the country”.

Advocacy Action: If you have a sugar tax, is it working? What studies have been or could be undertaken to show its effectiveness? If you don’t have a sugar tax, what evidence will you be able to draw on if you wish to go down this route? What agreement could you obtain to spend the revenue on specific health promotion initiatives?