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Document Abstract
Published: 2016

Debates on the sugar tax

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In July 2016, the National Treasury of South Africa proposed an effective 20% tax on sugary soft drinks. The proposal derives from the National Department of Health strategy to reduce obesity. It is rooted in the scientific consensus that these kinds of drinks are a key factor behind rising obesity and the attendant ailments of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The Beverage Association of South Africa’s (BEVSA) response to the sugar tax proposal has been aggressively publicised. But its arguments rely on a misunderstanding of economic realities combined with repeated misrepresentations of the available data. In particular, because of the host of substitutes available for sugary drinks, both consumers and producers can adapt to the tax in ways that avoid economic costs while achieving significant health benefits.

This brief suggests in arguing that sugar consumption is not a significant problem in South Africa, BEVSA’s document misuses FAO data while ignoring actual studies of diet and nutrition.

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A woman cuts a vegetable for a customer at a market in Jaipur, India.
© 2000 Todd Shapera, Courtesy of Photoshare