Waiting extra year to introduce sugar tax ‘a grave mistake’

Waiting another year to introduce a sugar tax is a “grave mistake” the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has warned.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said on Monday that he would introduce a sugar tax in 2018, in line with similar plans in Britain.

There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to introduce a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and the RCPI wants the Government to introduce the tax in next month’s budget.

The chairman of the RCPI policy group on obesity, Prof Donal O’Shea, said obesity was Ireland’s greatest public health problem and required urgent action.

“Waiting another year to introduce such an important, evidence-based measure to prevent obesity, particularly in children, is a grave mistake,” said Prof O’Shea.

The RCPI wants a 20% tax on sugar sweetened drinks, with the proceeds ring-fenced for promoting healthier living.

“On behalf of the families of the 4,000 people who will die next year directly as a result of our obesity epidemic, I would ask that the Government urgently revisit this deferral,” said Prof O’Shea.

He said there was a broad political consensus and a majority of public opinion that a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks was worth pursuing.

“The view of the medical community is unanimous. There is no sense whatsoever in postponing it. It is weak leadership and a victory for powerful industry lobbying yet again,” he said.

“Only strong decisions by government backed by legislation will change the environment and enable personal change.

“It’s already too late for many, but that is no reason for continued lethargy in tackling the country’s number one public health problem.”

The World Health Organization has warned that Ireland is well on track to becoming the fattest country in Europe by 2030.

“We know that children as young as two years of age are presenting to weight clinics and are seriously overweight and we know that one in four children in Ireland is overweight or obese,” said Prof O’Shea.

“This chronic disease is the greatest public health problem facing Irish society and require urgent action.”

In its pre-budget submission, the RCPI is also urging the Government to move ahead with adopting the Public Health Alcohol Bill that includes evidence-based measures that will save lives and reduce pressure on struggling health services.

The RCPI president and chair of its policy group on alcohol, Prof Frank Murray, said the Government could introduce measures that could save lives and address the nation’s harmful relationship with alcohol.

“Alcohol costs the exchequer €3.7bn a year while the cost borne by so many Irish men, women, and children as a result of our heavy consumption of alcohol is catastrophic. I would urge all politicians to support this bill which has been long-fingered for long enough,” said Prof Murray.

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