Updated: 09/12/16 : 16:39:35
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Is a Sugar Tax the Right Move for Ireland, Mr Noonan?

A recent study, conducted by a group of 4th year students from IT Sligo, into the feasibility of the governments proposed sugar tax, will make for uncomfortable reading for supporters of this proposal.

The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, made the announcement back in October 2016 that the tax would come into effect in April 2018. The announcement came after years of calls from medical professionals to introduce a tax on food and beverages with a high sugar content.

These calls were reinforced last year when the Royal College of Surgeons voiced their concerns that Ireland was at risk of becoming the most obese country in Europe in the coming decades if changes aren’t made sooner rather than later.

The study looked at the imposition of a sugar tax in other nations in the past, and analysed how effective or not these taxes have been. A survey of students was also carried out to gauge the opinions of the upcoming generation who would be effected most by the proposal. The survey was designed to determine whether people were for or against the tax, whilst also factoring in how aware the public were of the sugar content in the products they consume on a day to day basis.

Obesity and Diabetes

While much of the sample proved unaware of the level of sugar some of these products contained (For example 83% of people polled believed that a Chai latte had between 0 and 7 spoons of sugar when in reality it contains 10.5 spoons of sugar), just 30% believed that the tax would solve Irelands obesity and diabetes problems, with 56% of the opinion that it would not, and the remaining 30% staying on the fence.

When the study looked at the effects of past attempts to implement a sugar tax in other nations, it became apparent that this had not been successful. In Denmark, a sugar tax has been in place as of 1930 and, in 2011 was followed on by the introduction of a ‘Fat Tax’.

This proved majorly unsuccessful, and even had the counter effect of creating a sort of black market for sugary or fatty products. This resulted in massive job losses and lost revenue within the Danish economy. The tax was ultimately scrapped as a result of this.

In France, there were unfavourable results also. Although purchases of soft drinks had slightly decreased in the first 2 years of the tax, by the end of year 3 there had been a complete reversal and sales had risen to 4.2% above the rate before the implementation of the tax. Mexico also produced similar findings. Basically, the imposition of a sugar tax has proved unsuccessful wherever it has been tried.

Perhaps then, the government should consider alternative measures to combat the obesity and diabetes dilemma that Ireland is currently facing. Maybe educating people further at an earlier stage could have an influence on the future purchasing decisions of the next generation. Perhaps a reduction in tax on healthier options could prove more effective. Either way, recent history suggests that alternative solutions need to be considered.