UK launches sugar tax on sweetened beverages

The United Kingdom on Friday became the latest country to join a growing list of countries that have enacted ‘sugar tax’ laws on sweetened beverages as a way to fight obesity among children which is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases later in life such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes among others.

The UK is said to have the highest level of obesity in Western Europe.

The new sugar tax targets soft drinks under 1.2% ABV with added sugar. A drink is considered to contain ‘added sugar’ if sugar has been added at any stage during production. For example, pure cane sugars such as sucrose and glucose as well as substances that contain sugar such as honey.

The levy rate is 18 pence per litre for sugar content of 5g or more per 100ml, and 24 pence per litre for those with 8g or more per 100ml.

Milk-based drinks (with at least 75% of milk) have been exempted from the new sugar tax. Others exempted include 100% fruit juices, alcohol replacement drinks such as no alcohol beer and wines, drinks with less than 5g sugar per 100ml and those from small producers.

The UK beverage industry has been outspoken against the new levy, arguing that it has been singled out despite efforts over recent years to reduce calories in drinks.

However, manufacturers have now focused on reformulations to reduce sugar and new product launches to minimize the effect on their portfolios. For instance, Coca-Cola said that 60% of its products will be spared of the new sugar tax, while Britvic and A.G. Barr said that 72% and 99% of their respective portfolios will be exempted from the new tax. Sprite, Lucozade, Capri-Sun and Irn-Bru have all reformulated their flagship brands in advance of the new tax.

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