Soft drink consumption has to be cut and a tax is the only one way, says the AMA.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on January 8, 2018

The Australian Medical Association is calling on the government to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks to make them less affordable.

The idea is that a sugar tax β€” which has already been adopted by 28 countries and seven US cities β€” would significantly reduce soft drink consumption.

“The AMA has a policy of price differentiation making a difference to people’s behaviour,” AMA’s director of public health, Simon Tatz said.

“That’s what we saw with tobacco and that’s why we support a sugar tax.”

That’s what we saw with tobacco and that’s why we support a sugar tax.

While AMA’s 2018 position statement does not outline a specific proposal, it points to a Grattan Institute study in 2016, which deduced that a tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar, would cut consumption by 15% and would raise $500 million for the budget.

In response to Grattan’s recommendations, Barnaby Joyce was scathing. He called it a “moralistic tax” and said it was “bonkers mad”, and it would have grave ramifications for the sugar farmers of Australia.

Early last year, the University of Melbourne added weight to Grattan’s research, finding that a sugar tax would result in 1.2 additional years of healthy life per 100 Australians.

According to AMA, it is about curbing the public’s behaviour.

“The AMA supports proposals to apply a tax or levy to sugar-sweetened beverages in Australia in order to reduce consumption,” the statement released on January 7 reads.

“People must be encouraged to drink water and it should be the default beverage option, including all instances where a beverage is provided with a meal. Consuming fluoridated tap water provides additional benefits, including the strengthening of tooth enamel, making teeth more resistant and reducing early decay.”

It has a fight on its hands though, with neither the Coalition or Labor in favour of the tax.

“Obesity and poor diets are complex public health issue with multiple contributing factors, requiring a community-wide approach as well as behaviour change by individuals. We do not support a new tax on sugar to address this issue,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday.

“Fresh fruit and vegetables are already effectively discounted as they do not have a GST applied.”

“We don’t have a plan for a sugar tax at the moment,” added deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek.

Meanwhile, 28 countries including the UK, France, Portugal, Mexico and South Africa, and seven cities of the United States (including San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia) have already made the move.

“America and England are moving much more quickly than Australia because they realised the cost of diabetes and obesity is much higher than a tax,” said Mr Tatz.

The AMA has put forward a raft of other measures aimed at reducing sugar intake β€” including a ban on the marketing of junk food to children; better accessibility to water; easier to understand product labelling; and the removal of vending machines with soft drinks from “all healthcare settings”.