Su­gary drinks smoke­screen

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Tracey Malawana

THE BEV­ER­AGE As­so­ci­a­tion of SA (BevSA), in its ar­ti­cle head­lined “Sugar tax will do far more harm than good” (The Star, June 6), in­sults the in­tel­li­gence of your read­ers.

It doesn’t take a ge­nius to fig­ure that a coun­try with 67 000 deaths a year from di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure and cere­brovas­cu­lar dis­ease – all un­der­pinned by a mas­sive obe­sity epi­demic – has to take ac­tion.

And tack­ling one of the worst di­etary of­fend­ers – su­gary drinks – is a smart place to start.

South Africans have a lot to gain by cut­ting down on drinks that have zero nu­tri­tive value and con­tain sugar in toxic con­cen­tra­tions.

For ev­ery per­son who dies from the dis­eases men­tioned above, there are sev­eral more strug­gling to man­age these con­di­tions and dis­abled by se­vere com­pli­ca­tions in­clud­ing blind­ness, kid­ney fail­ure, paral­y­sis and the am­pu­ta­tion of limbs.

Against this dis­turb­ing re­al­ity, the bev­er­age In­dus­try raises the spec­tre of mas­sive job losses and the col­lapse of many small busi­nesses if the planned tax on su­gary drinks comes into force.

This would be very wor­ry­ing if the claims were be­liev­able, but econ­o­mists have picked gap­ing holes in them.

Neva Makgetla of Trade and In­dus­trial Pol­icy Strate­gies has ar­gued that BevSA vastly over­states the jobs that de­pend on the pro­duc­tion of su­gary drinks.

If all other sec­tors made such ex­ag­ger­ated claims, she says, South Africa would have 34 mil­lion em­ployed peo­ple rather than the ac­tual 15.5 mil­lion.

She shows why BevSA’s fig­ures on in­for­mal traders and their de­pen­dence on su­gary drinks sales are also over­stated.

BevSA never con­cedes that con­sumers will re­spond to the tax by shift­ing to cheaper, health­ier tax-free bev­er­ages – as they did in Mex­ico – and that food chains and spaza shops alike will ad­just their stocks and keep on trad­ing.

Coca-Cola, how­ever, is al­ready pre­par­ing to live with the tax, its MD, Ve­laphi Rat­she­fola, re­vealed in Par­lia­ment this week.

It will sell sugar-free and light drinks for R1 less a can than the su­gary type. Maybe you have no­ticed the new Stoney Light on mar­ket shelves?

While protest­ing that su­gary drinks are not ma­jor driv­ers of obe­sity and con­tin­u­ing to talk up (in­flated) job losses, the in­dus­try also says it is quite pre­pared to “re­for­mu­late” su­gary drinks and bring in more sugar-free and light op­tions.

Just don’t force us, they say, we’ll do it all our­selves.

Well, it doesn’t add up: why is sugar re­duc­tion an ef­fec­tive health mea­sure when the in­dus­try does it vol­un­tar­ily, but not when it is im­posed by gov­ern­ment fis­cal poli­cies?

Why does “self-reg­u­la­tion” not cause huge job losses while the tax-driven strat­egy sup­pos­edly does?

The truth is that the tax on su­gary drinks will re­quire the bev­er­age in­dus­try to ad­just its pric­ing struc­tures.

The con­sumer, on the other hand, can avoid this tax by switch­ing to health­ier bev­er­ages.

If your read­ers be­lieve it all boils down to prof­its, they are prob­a­bly right.

And maybe they will re­luc­tantly ad­mit our over­weight na­tion needs the gov­ern­ment to nudge us to­wards health­ier eat­ing.

Ef­fect of tax over­stated, health ben­e­fits un­der­stated

Co-or­di­na­tor, Liv­ing Al­liance Healthy

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