Bat­tle over bub­ble tax

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

Would a tax on sug­ary drinks make you reach for a glass of wa­ter in­stead?

Re­search pub­lished in the New Zealand Med­i­cal Jour­nal last week says a 20 per cent tax on sug­ary soft drinks would prevent an es­ti­mated 67 deaths from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, di­a­betes and diet-re­lated can­cers per year.

It would be a sim­ple and smart move to fight obe­sity and re­lated ill­nesses, its au­thor Pro­fes­sor Tony Blakely of the Depart­ment of Public Health at the Univer­sity of Otago says.

‘‘If you’re think­ing of one tax or sub­sidy on food, then this is [it],’’ he says.

‘‘Sug­ary soft drinks are dis­pro­por­tion­ately drunk by kids.

‘‘We’ve got big prob­lems [in New Zealand] with child­hood obe­sity,’’ he says.

‘‘In other coun­tries it’s plateaued out and here it hasn’t – that’s a real is­sue.’’

The re­port says Maori and Pa­cific Is­lan­ders would ben­e­fit the most from the tax, as they are on av­er­age more re­spon­sive to changes in food prices and are higher con­sumers of sug­ary drinks.

Prof Blakely says al­though the fig­ures in the new study are ‘‘in­her­ently un­cer­tain’’, it is es­ti­mated 67 deaths per year would be avoided and a tax of 20 per cent would gen­er­ate up to $40 mil­lion rev­enue per year to fund obe­sity preven­tion.

The num­bers would be higher if sugar-sweet­ened cor­dials and fruit juice were in­cluded in the cal­cu­la­tions, he says.

But Prof Blakely per­son­ally be­lieves diet drinks should not be taxed.

Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand says a tax on soft drinks or other sweet­ened bev­er­ages will not work to fix the obe­sity prob­lem on its own.

‘‘We need to en­sure peo­ple un­der­stand that when it comes to weight man­age­ment, all kilo­joules count, re­gard­less of the source – and that in­cludes our prod­ucts, too.’’

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