Tag Archive | tobacco

Sugar tax possibilities

Once again, a tax on sweet drinks and beverages arises….

sugar_caneProfessor Melvyn Freeman, head of non-communicable diseases, department of health (DoH), says the department is re-looking at the issue of introducing a sugar tax to encourage South Africans to consume less sugar.

His comment comes as a result of the publication of the World Health Organisation’s Global Cancer Report 2014, which reports that tobacco, alcohol and sweet drinks are driving a rapid growth in preventable cancers.

More than 30% of cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, says the fact sheet, and these include tobacco use; being overweight or obese; unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake; lack of physical activity; alcohol use; sexually transmitted HIV-infection; urban air pollution and indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels.

Poor countries worst hit

More than 60% of world’s total new annual cases occur in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. These regions account for 70% of the world’s cancer deaths. It is expected that annual cancer cases, WHO says, will rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 within the next two decades. Obesity, particularly with schoolchildren, is considered a problem by DoH locally, according to an earlier report to Parliament by minister of health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

Analysts say, while it is important for governments to encourage people to take responsibility for their own health and make changes to their diet and lifestyle, regulators should consider controlling alcohol and sugar consumption in the same way as tobacco products.

“There is no final decision on a sugar tax as yet, but it is an option that is being considered and we are assessing all relevant factors around this,” says Prof. Freeman. The R12bn South African sugar industry is cost-competitive, consistently ranking in the top 15 out of approximately 120 sugar producing countries worldwide.

Also the sugar industry provides employment in job starved regions often in deep rural areas where there is little other economic activity or employment opportunity. Opportunities for this industry lie ahead and include biomass for renewable energy. In addition, the SA sugar industry has transferred 21% of freehold land under cane from white to black owners since 1994 off a base of 5%.

Sweet story

The South African sugar industry generates an annual estimated average direct income of over R12 billion. Sugar is manufactured by six milling companies with 14 sugar mills operating in the cane-growing regions.  The industry produces an average of 2,2 million tons of sugar per season.  About 75% of this sugar on average is marketed in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The remainder is exported to markets in Africa, Asia and the USA.

University of the Witwatersrand School of Public Health director Karen Hofman said it was not clear if a tax on beverages would be feasible, but even if it were, it should not be seen as a silver bullet. “Any regulatory effort will only ever be part of the solution. People should be free to eat and drink what they like, but they need to have a full understanding of what they are consuming,” says Hofman.

She adds that she is unaware of a specific tax on sugar anywhere in the world. “We do know that taxes have been successfully introduced in several countries, including France and Mexico,” says Hofman. Such taxes have been introduced on those who use sugar in some form of manufacturing or food and beverage supplies.

Obesity and SSBs

In the USA, the term sugar-sweetened beverages, or SSBs, is used – which are drinks sweetened with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or other caloric sweeteners. They are a significant source of nutrition-less or “empty” calories in the American diet, say some, and a significant contributor to the current obesity epidemic there. In the USA, researchers say that if the taxes are large enough they could reduce consumption and the revenue from these taxes to be used on obesity prevention.

Here in South Africa, Discovery health representatives has publicly cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the link between sugar consumption and preventable cancers.  Their Derek Yach says, “Tobacco remains by far the most powerful single determinant of cancer, accounting for 90% of the lung cancer cases and about a third of all cancer deaths.” He calls for all resources to focus on this area.

In a country like South Africa, with limited financial resources, he says, “a focus on taxes on sugar to reduce cancer is a misplaced policy which will have little impact on cancer incidences and distract people from the major diet issues – which are to increase healthy food intake.”
Previous articles in this category or as background
http://parlyreportsa.co.za//cabinetpresidential/sa-health-welfare-starts-in-small-way/

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