Leo Varadkar backs proposal to impose hospital ‘sugar tax’ on drinks and snacks

Hospitals imposing sugar tax on drinks and snacks is “a good idea”, said Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar was responding to a move by the National Health Service in England to impose its own sugar tax in hospitals.

Chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, said the levy would help tackle the growing problem of obesity.

Mr Stevens said hospitals would start charging more for high-sugar drinks and snacks in their cafes and vending machines to deter patients, visitors, and staff from buying them.

Responding to the move, Mr Varadkar said he thought the NHS plan was a good idea and he would be raising it with the HSE at the next monthly meeting.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

A spokesman for HSE said the health authority “is supportive of any initiative” shown to have an impact on decreasing the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks and foods high in fat, salt, and sugar.

The HSE has a Healthier Vending Policy that requires local management to ensure all vending machines in HSE sites provide healthier options.

“The next review of the Healthier Vending Policy is scheduled for June 2016. The NHS initiative will be considered as part of this review,” the spokesman said.

During an interview with The Guardian, the NHS chief said the levy that would be rolled out across the service over the next five years

The tax, expected to raise between £20m (€26.2m) to £40m (€52.4m) a year, would be used to improve the health of the NHS staff.

The move comes after British prime minister David Cameron signalled that he was prepared to drop his previous opposition to a general sugar tax in the face of what he described as an “obesity crisis.”

David Cameron
David Cameron

The Downing Street policy unit is currently working to finalise the measures to be included in a new childhood obesity task force.

Mr Varadkar said his department has been working with the food industry to slowly reduce sugar, fat and salt in food.

The department’s Special Action Group on Obesity is finalising healthy eating guidelines, including the issue of added sugar, expected to be published next month.


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