What the 2018 Sugar Tax means for you

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Sugar cubes on spoon

It’s easy to be lured into the trap of a sugary drink, whether it acts as a mixer to your evening cocktail, or masquerades as a refreshing pick-me-up during your working day. But it’s believed that children and teenagers are consuming three times the recommended level of sugar, with adults not too far behind. In attempt to combat this, the government has proposed a Sugar Tax.

The Sugar Tax, formally known as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, is a surcharge on all soft drinks that have over a certain amount of sugar. The aim? To reduce obesity and tackle type 2 diabetes in the UK by charging customers more for their fizzy fix, and encouraging businesses to cut their sugar content.

What does the Sugar Tax actually mean?

Businesses that produce, package or transport soft drinks with added sugar in the UK will need to register and pay a levy. Two bands will be used to determine the levy - one for total sugar content above 5g per 100ml, and another for drinks containing 8 grams or more per 100ml. To put that into perspective, Coca Cola currently contains 10.6g of sugar per 100ml, 7 Up contains 11g per 100ml and Old Jamaica Ginger Beer contains 15.7g per 100ml. The recommended intake of sugar per day for an adult over the age of 11 is 30g. While there is great debate about ‘healthy’ smoothies and milk-based products, pure fruit juices and milk drinks will be exempt from the tax.

Former chancellor George Osborne estimated that the sugar tax could raise up to £520 million for the government in the first year alone. However giant corporations such as Coca-Cola are opposing the tax. It is right to be wary after the New Coke debacle. The Guardian reported in January 2018 that Coca-Cola plans to use smaller bottles and sell them at higher prices as a way of avoiding having to change its recipe. The British Soft Drinks Association also clarified its position by stating: “At a time of great economic uncertainty the Government should be supporting UK businesses and consumers rather than putting additional pressure on them with a soft drinks tax, which experience suggests will not be effective in addressing obesity.”

It appears that the proposed Sugar Tax has already caused great controversy before it has even been implemented. The new legislation will come into effect for consumers in the UK in April 2018, though companies such as Irn Bru and Lucozade have already altered their recipes to reduce their sugar content.

Where is the evidence?

Glass full of sugar

There have been multiple studies worldwide into the effectiveness of a Sugar Tax. According to The Guardian, a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found sales of soft drinks in a Melbourne hospital dropped by 27.6% during a 17-week trial when the price of sugary drinks increased by 20%. After a similar tax was introduced in Mexico, analysis revealed that sugary drink purchases dropped by 5.5% in the first year and 9.7% in the second. In the UK, an official report by Public Health England revealed the NHS could save £15bn and almost 80,000 lives in a generation by encouraging the public to avoid sugary drinks. However, these short-term studies and projections have riled critics, who claim there is insufficient evidence to suggest that a Sugar Tax will be effective in the UK.

Healthy sugar alternatives

Stevia plant extract

With the looming Sugar Tax in mind, what can businesses do to healthily reduce the amount of sugar hidden in their drinks? There are a number of natural sweeteners which are low-calorie or calorie-free and don’t contain any sugar, and there are plenty of natural alternatives to the sugar we know and love, including agave nectar, honey and coconut palm sugar. Although these contain sugar, they are widely considered to be healthier alternatives.

Stevia (steviol glycosides) is a popular sugar replacement. The plant extract contains no calories, has no sugar or carbohydrates and has a glycaemic index (how food affects your blood sugar level) of 0. Despite its many benefits, businesses have been reluctant to switch to stevia due to the taste. While it is remarkably similar to sugar, companies have found that their customers don’t like it as much, due to its slightly bitter aftertaste.

When the Sugar Tax rolls out on April 6th 2018, both sceptics and supporters will be eager to see the outcome. If businesses can successfully reduce the sugar content in their drinks without losing loyal customers, there could be extensive health benefits for the UK population. We’ll be looking out for any exciting developments in sugar alternatives.