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A Call for a Soda Tax in Britain, While Mexico Eyes a Cut

Mary K. Caffrey
Soda consumption dropped in Mexico in the year after its soda tax took effect, but the beverage industry is fighting back. Calls continue both here and abroad for taxes to combat obesity.
A celebrity chef has called on British officials to give a sugar tax a trial run to combat childhood obesity, calling it the “single most important” item on the national agenda.

“My suggestion to the government is that we should implement a 3-year sugary drink tax of 20% per liter, which is 7 pence on a regular can of soda, and htat we should absolutely interrogate it and put a sunset clause on it.”

According to Forbes, this is not Oliver’s first pass at a soda tax. He’s put a “sugar tax” on drinks in his own restaurants of 10 pence—about 15 cents in US currency—for every drink containing sugar.

Meanwhile in Mexico, where a nationwide soda tax was credited with a 6% drop in soda purchases during the first 12 months, officials are considered modifying the tax, which has reignited the soda wars in that country.

Oliver’s call comes 2 months after the National Health Services (NHS) reported a 60% rise in the number of diabetes cases in England and Wales over the past decade, which is putting enormous financial pressure on the health system. About 80% of what the system spends on the disease goes toward managing complications, and many cases of diabetes arise from obesity.

Ministers of Parliament have been cool to Oliver’s idea so far, according to published reports, but he thinks the fight is far from over. He said, “I’ve seen firsthand the heartbreaking effects that poor dieand too much sugar is having on our children’s health and futures. Young children are needing multiple teeth pulled out under general anesthetic and 1 in 3 kids is now leaving primary school overweight or obese.”

Mexico’s soda tax took effect in January 2014 after the nation’s obesity rate hit 32.8%, higher than the United States’ rate of 31.8%. Now, however, officials are considering cutting the tax rate in half if the sugar content of drinks is less than 5 grams per 100 milliliters.

The beverage industry has found aggressively against soda taxes and other efforts to regulate sugary drinks. The City of Berkeley, California, was the first in the United States to impose a soda tax when voters approved a referendum in November 2014, but that same day voters in San Francisco turned down a tax. The beverage lobby fought aggressively against both measures, and the requirements that two-third of San Francisco voters approve the tax doomed the measure, even though a slight majority supported it.

Efforts to regulate the size of sugary drinks in New York City did not survive court challenges. A Chicago alderman has proposed a soda tax, but the state’s top beverage association lobbyist says it will cost jobs.

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