The announcement that sugar-sweetened beverages will be taxed within a year has left a bitter sweet taste in the mouths health industry experts.
While they welcome the 11% tax rate by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, they were hoping the tax would be 20% based on a 330ml can.
The Healthy Living Alliance (Heala) coordinator, Tracey Malawana, explained that the economic modelling done by the Wits School of Public Health’s think-tank Priceless SA (Priority Cost Effective Lessons for Systems Strengthening) indicated that a 20% tax on these products would result in 220 000 fewer obese South Africans and contribute up to R7 billion in revenue that could be used to fund health initiatives.
Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness, also welcomed the announcement.
He said: “We believe that action is required to reduce the intake of sugary drinks, and support the proposed sugar tax.
“From a health point of view, it is excellent news that sugar content will remain the base on which the tax is applied – this encourages reformulation and the availability of drinks with a lower sugar content. We are also pleased to hear that some of the revenue generated from the proposed tax will be used to support health-promotion programmes aimed at non-communicable diseases.
“We have much to do as South Africans to combat the increasing prevalence of obesity in our country, and the sugar tax is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Despite the disappointment from Heala, which championed the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages, Malawana agreed with Nossel on obesity.
“Tackling obesity should be a national health priority ... While there is no silver bullet that will slim down the nation, cutting sugar consumption is a non-negotiable public health measure. Sugary drinks are a major contributor to excessive sugar intake,” she said.
Director of Priceless SA, Professor Karen Hofman, said: “When we introduced increased taxes on tobacco, smoking decreased from 40% to 20% of the adult population.”
“This tax also will save lives, increase life expectancy, avoid impoverishment and avert huge costs to economy. There is a pressing need to commit to this tax without delay,” she said.