Britain on Thursday said it would tax companies
which sell sugary soft drinks and invest that money
in health programs for school children, part of a
long-awaited strategy to curb childhood obesity that
critics say is too weak.
Drinks companies were
also angered by the plan which urges industry to cut
sugar in products aimed at children, saying nearly a
third of those aged 2 to 15 are already overweight
In a statement
announcing details of the strategy, which has been
in the works for several years, junior finance
minister Jane Ellison said obesity was costing
Britain's National Health Service (NHS) billions of
pounds every year.
In opting for a sugar tax, Britain joins Belgium,
France, Hungary and Mexico, all of which have
imposed some form of tax on drinks with added sugar.
Scandinavian countries have levied similar taxes for
The Soft Drinks Industry Levy is a key part of the
government’s childhood obesity strategy: here's how
Soft Drinks Industry Levy: 12 things you should know
1. Is this the same as the “sugar tax”?
The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) was nicknamed
the “sugar tax” by the media and online when it was
announced at the 2016 Budget. But this isn’t a tax
on all sugar; the levy directly targets the
producers and importers of sugary soft drinks to
encourage them to remove added sugar, promote diet
drinks, and reduce portion sizes for high sugar
2. Will the Levy increase how much a soft drink
This is not a tax on consumers. The government is
not increasing the price of products; companies
don’t have to pass the charge on to their customers.
If companies take the right steps to make their
drinks healthier they will pay less tax, or even
nothing at all.
3. What exactly will be taxed?
The levy will make soft drinks companies pay a
charge for drinks with added sugar, and total sugar
content of five grams or more per 100 millilitres.
That is about 5% sugar content. There is a higher
charge for the drinks that contain eight grams or
more per 100 millilitres, or about 8% sugar content.
This means that pure fruit juices won’t be taxed,
because they don’t contain added sugar. Neither will
drinks that have a high milk content, because they
contain calcium and other nutrients that are vital
for a healthy diet.
4. What will the money raised be spent on?
In England, the new levy revenue will be invested in
giving school-aged children a brighter and healthier
future, including programmes to encourage physical
activity and balanced diets. For Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland, the Barnett formula will be
applied to spending on these new initiatives in the
5. Why soft drinks in particular?
There are nine teaspoons of sugar in a 330ml can of
cola, instantly taking children above their
recommended maximum for the day. A five year old
should have no more than 19g of sugar in a day, but
a typical can of cola can have 35g. Public health
experts from the Chief Medical Officer to the
British Heart Foundation agree that sugar-sweetened
soft drinks are a major source of sugar for children
and teenagers, and that sugar intake drives obesity.
Many soft drinks contain no intrinsic nutritional
value, and could be easily reformulated to contain
less sugar. Some companies have already done this.
6. Is obesity really a major problem?
Unfortunately, yes. The UK has one of the highest
obesity rates among developed countries, and it’s
getting worse. By 2050, over 35% of boys and 20% of
girls aged 6-10 are expected to be obese. The
estimated obesity-related costs to the NHS is over
7. Can soft drinks producers really reformulate
Yes. Reformulation is definitely possible and some
players in the soft drinks industry are already
moving in the right direction. Companies like Tesco,
Robinsons and The Co-Operative have already taken
steps to reformulate.
And this isn’t the first time the food and drinks
industry has put the public’s health first. The
evidence from salt reformulation shows that industry
behaviour can reduce unhealthy consumption – salt
intake has been reduced by 15% over the last 10
years by industry taking action. But with a looming
obesity crises government believes a strong lever is
needed to incentivise industry to move faster and
8. How does this compare to what other countries
Many countries – including France, Finland, Hungary
and Mexico – have introduced taxes on soft drinks in
various forms. The World Health Organisation has
said that taxes are needed to help halt obesity
rises across the globe.
The levy that the UK government has unveiled is
aimed directly at producers and importers, not
consumers, because the government believes that
producers need to act, rather than just passing
higher prices onto consumers. This kind of approach
has been tried in Hungary, and researchers there
found that companies did act to remove unhealthy
9. Who supports the levy?
Chef Jamie Oliver and other expert health
campaigners have highlighted the problem of
childhood obesity in the UK.
In fact, over 60 public health organisations have
called for a tax on sugary drinks. This includes
Public Health England, The British Medical
Association and the Royal Society for Public Health.
Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for
England, has said that reformulation and resizing
are the key wins for tackling obesity.
10. When will this come into force?
Not for another two years. The government is giving
producers time to take action before the tax begins,
and consulting on some of the detail of the levy.
The government will set out detailed legislation in
the Finance Bill 2017, with implementation expected
from April 2018 onwards. This gives producers time
to reformulate their products, so they won’t have to
pay the levy.
11. What’s next – will you start taxing
confectionery or other sugary snacks?
No. There are no current plans to introduce similar
levies or expand this one to confectionery.
However, the government hopes this levy will
encourage the entire food and drinks industry to
play their part in developing products with lower
12. Will the public and experts have a say about the
A public consultation is being run over the summer
on the detail of the levy. This will include working
with industry and health experts and consulting on a
wide range of technical details such as how best to
exclude certain drinks, and how to protect the
For more information
GOV.UK - Soft Drinks