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Is a soft drinks tax too bitter a pill to swallow?

Soft drinks excerpts

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Renewed calls for a soft drinks tax have drawn criticism from the Australian Beverages Council, but in Singapore authorities and economists are taking a more rational approach to the reality of increasing rates of obesity and diabetes.

 

According to our Beverages Council, the idea of taxing soft drinks has a 'fatal flaw'.

 

Writing in 'The Australian' newspaper, Chief Executive Geoff Parker says dietary behaviour cannot be predicted or controlled by a 'blunt economic instrument like a tax' and where implemented, these taxes have been unsuccessful.

 

According to Mr Parker, health advocates are spending 'millions of dollars of public funds campaigning for a tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs). "It is not right that so much money, which may be better used to treat chronic diseases, is being recklessly spent on an unpopular, lightweight strategy that has been ruled out by both major parties," he says.

 

Diabetes Queensland (a charity whose advocacy efforts are funded by members and donors) supports the Obesity Policy Coalition, the health advocacy campaign that has drawn the ire of Mr Parker and his Council.

 

But the proposals of the OPC and Diabetes Queensland do not begin and end with a soft drinks tax and it is wrong of Mr Parker to say so.

 

The problems caused by obesity and the consequences for Australian health care and the tax system that funds it are increasing at a rapid rate.

 

Just this week, an international report forecast the cost of caring for obesity-related health conditions in Australia will increase from $12 billion in 2014 to $21 billion by 2025.

 

That is why we call on our Governments to greatly increase their efforts and to confront the problem using an eight-point action plan, of which the soft drinks tax is just one integral part.

Tipping the scale

 

Meanwhile, the president of the Economic Society of Singapore, Professor Euston Quah - writing in The Straits Times - has offered a well-considered view, examining the benefits and the hidden hurdles of a soft drinks tax and how it might apply in his country.

 

"In the fight against diabetes, Singapore can consider a tax on sugar. But it has to be well thought through first to avoid over-burdening low-income households," says Prof. Quah, also the head of economics at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

 

"Some people might say that when it comes to food choices, they should have complete freedom in making those choices as they are solely responsible for the health cost that they would incur."

 

"However, the cost goes beyond personal choices." Read excerpts from the opinion piece

 

In Australia, those of us proposing comprehensive co-ordinated action against obesity don't see taxing soft drinks as a 'soft target'.

 

More studies have been published about the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on our health than we care to list here.

 

A great body of research commends our advocacy for a soft drinks tax as part of an effective suite of measures to change the behaviour of both consumers and manufacturers and to help our country break free of a mindset that has beleaguered Australians for decades. 

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