Sugar tax faces soft drinks backlash

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Plans for a new tax on sugar-heavy soft drinks unveiled in last week’s Budget have run into criticism from soft drinks manufacturers.

The proposals suggested a tax would be added to products with the highest sugar content from 2018, with the exact levies to be worked out. But as the Sunday Times has reported, Coca-Cola and other manufacturers argue that the plans are unfair and unnecessary, with a legal challenge now a possibility.

Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain, said: “We understand obesity is an issue that needs to be addressed and will continue our work to reduce the sugar and calories consumed from our drinks. We have already done a great deal and our actions are doing more to reduce sugar and calorie intake than a tax will.”

He added that the plans were also unfair because they targeted soft drinks rather than other sugar-heavy products. “It’s disappointing that the Government has chosen to single out soft drinks in its attempt to tackle the problem. If the aim is to reduce obesity, this levy flies in the face of evidence from around the world which shows taxes do very little, if anything, to reduce sugar and calorie intake or obesity levels but do add to people’s cost of living.”

Britvic added in a statement: “We are extremely disappointed that the government is proposing to introduce a soft drinks tax from 2018. Singling out soft drinks alone will not solve the obesity problem, given the small proportion of calories they contribute in the average diet. We remain of the view that only a holistic, wide-ranging strategy will tackle obesity.”

Where the debate goes from here is unclear, though legal challenges have successfully defended the soft drinks industry from taxes in some other countries. If they are introduced, manufacturers will have to decide how much of the extra cost is passed on to consumers, and how much is absorbed in-house.