‘Idealistic’ sugar tax unlikely to be effective

By Pádraig Hoare

The sugar tax is “too simplistic” and may end up driving up costs for consumers and businesses, a leading nutritional expert has warned.

Sigma Nutrition founder Danny Lennon said while there was some evidence that taxing sugar had led to a drop in consumption in countries that had implemented it, there were questions as to how meaningful the changes actually were in the long-term.

“I’m not sure the type of decreases seen are likely to dramatically improve public health. I’ve yet to see any evidence that a sugar tax would lower BMI or reduce obesity rates. This makes sense as it’s not doing anything to address overall diet and lifestyle behaviours that would change such factors.

“It just seems like an idealistic plan, without much hope of being effective. I do hope I’m wrong.”

Mr Lennon said there were lessons to be learned in comparing taxing tobacco.

“Is an increase in price enough of a deterrent for those most at risk, such as those who have the highest sugar intakes? I doubt it. Whilst there is a clear correlation between smoking rates and taxation, the largest drops are in youth smokers. But it doesn’t seem effective for those who are long-term smokers.

“So the increased cost is enough of a barrier to stop young people with not much disposable income from taking up the habit, but for those who are already established heavy smokers, that deterrent is far from enough. It just drives up costs,” said Mr Lennon.

The implementation of the tax from today is expected to raise €40m for the exchequer by imposing a 20c per litre tax on drinks with up to 8g of sugar per 100ml. A tax of 30c a litre will apply to drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.

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