Time to tax sugar? A momentum grows
The main story this week is the unexpected explicitness behind Food Standards Scotland's recommendations to the Scottish Government.
Public agencies are not always as forthcoming with calls for bold action, and this one also contained an ultimatum for industry: improve the country's eating habits, or face a sugar tax.
Public Health Minister Maureen Watt was forced into the position of having to say the Government's current position is not to tax sugar, but with even David Cameron hinting he's looking at a sugar drinks tax last week, there is clear momentum here.
Watt said: “We have no plans to introduce a sugar tax – and in any case, we do not currently have the direct power to do so. However, we are grateful to Food Standards Scotland for undertaking this work on a key public health issue and will consider their report.
“We are also examining what further effective actions we can take within the current powers of the Scottish Government that would have an impact on obesity rates, including on the use of multi-buy promotions. Food Standards Scotland will be an important partner in this on-going work and we look forward to continuing to work with them to drive forward our shared agenda of making Scotland healthier.”
Although the Scottish parliament doesn't have power over excise duty per se, there are other options available, for example where tax is raised locally, or minimum pricing such as the proposals on alcohol. Other legislative options, like restricting the sales of energy drinks to over 18s, would be available to the Scottish Government if the political will was there.
The arguments against include the fact a tax on sugar may end up being regressive, as poorer households get more energy from cheap sugar, or that it would just mean people would switch to similarly unhealthy alternatives.
I was at a public meeting on the proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks this week, and it was recognised the measure wouldn't tackle rising obesity and diabetes levels on its own. Reformulation and cultural change will also be needed, it has been argued.
However, a sugary drinks tax has proved effective in countries such as Mexico, and the policy enjoys the support of the BMA, some Royal Colleges and many others.
Look out for the next issue of Holyrood where I will will examine this issue in more depth