OPINION

Sugar tax increase will hurt the poor – Wilmot James

DA welcomes plan to reduce obesity but warns methods should be checked

Health Minister’s proposed sugar tax will increase food prices and hurt the poor 

11 January 2016

While the DA welcomes the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi’s, plans to reduce obesity by 10% amongst South Africans as the right move to solving a major national problem we believe that increasing the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages by 20% will further increase food prices and hurt the poor who will not be able to afford alternate forms of sugar. 

This comes after reports today claiming that government will be campaigning for sugar and fat taxes as set-out in the Department of Health’s (DoH) Strategy for Prevention and Control of Obesity in SA. The DA notes with concern that hiking taxes will only be partially effective in curbing obesity. For example in Mexico – where a 10% sugar tax was introduced – only a 6,4% drop in Coca Cola sales, a 10% decline in sugary beverage consumption and a 7% rise in sales of bottled water and milk was recorded.

With such feeble results, proposed tax hikes will firstly take longer than the intended five years (2015 – 2020) to reduce obesity by 10%, secondly, the poor will have to bear the brunt of higher food prices over the entirety of this extended period. 

The DA calls for Minister Motsoaledi to rather focus on both diet and exercise interventions rather than interfering with the already overbearing tax regime. Academic studies have revealed that South African’s have diets that lack fruit and vegetables but high in fat and sugar, as well as that most South Africans living in the rural areas and townships have limited access to facilities to exercise. 

Campaign’s to transform diets and greater access to exercise facilities should be the priority in eradicating obesity. Taxes will partially reduce unhealthy food consumption and it is also difficult to compel consumers to eat healthier foods by making unhealthy foods expensive. There are always cheaper, fizzier and sweeter alternatives on offer.

The DA cares for the personal progression of all South Africans and addressing the impediment of obesity is key to living a prosperous life. We will fight to ensure that government implements strategic policies that will make it easier for every South African to live a healthy life without hurting the poor.     

Issued by Wilmot James, Shadow Minister of Health, Da, 11 January 2016