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Action on Salt and Action on Sugar respond to Boris Johnson's proposed review of 'sin taxes'

3 July 2019

Read our Letter to the Editor in The Guardian

With Cancer Research UK confirming that obesity is the leading cause of four common cancers in the UK, it’s a scandal that Boris Johnson is questioning the effectiveness of taxes on food and drinks products and questioning whether taxes unfairly hit those on low incomes.

Rather than being penalised, the poorest stand to benefit the most. Sugary drink consumption levels tend to be highest among the most disadvantaged children, who are hit hardest by obesity and tooth decay. By suggesting exercise can help solve the UK’s obesity crisis, which is not backed by evidence unlike the sugar tax and the voluntary sugar and salt reduction programmes, Mr Johnson is unfairly putting the onus on individuals.

Let’s not forget that the sugar ‘tax’ isn’t actually a tax but a levy and is therefore only payable by companies that continue to profit by putting everyone’s health at risk and is not applied to consumers at all. The UK’s sugar levy has already led to a reduction in the sugar content of more than half of the soft drinks market since its introduction in 2018 and was put in place to encourage drink manufacturers to reformulate their products and avoid paying the levy in the first place. In Mexico, a one peso per litre sugary drinks tax (a 10% price increase) led to a 12 per cent drop in consumption overall, and 17 per cent drop in consumption among lower income households. In Hungary, a tax on sugary products led 40 per cent of manufacturers to reduce or eliminate sugar to avoid the tax.

High levels of sugar consumption are contributing to soaring rates of obesity, which is a major risk factor for many serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer – not to mention the huge cost to the NHS. Tackling the root causes of obesity, through a sugar tax, has the potential to bring about massive savings and we should be looking to extend levies to other high sugar, salt and fat products, not halting them

Graham MacGregor, Chair of Action on Salt and Action on Sugar



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