Study: Sugar tax is penalized by not linking it to health promotion – The Royal Gazette
Created: August 17, 2022 07:44
Against: Popularity of sugar-sweetened beverages dwindled following introduction of tax, poll finds (Photograph provided)
A controversial tax on products containing sugar forced almost half of respondents to cut back on their consumption of sugary products and drinks, according to an academic study.
But the levy still brought the government millions of dollars in revenue.
The tax was introduced by the government in October 2018 to reduce sugar consumption and obesity.
According to a study published this week, 48% of 400 people surveyed said they had reduced their sugar intake after the price hike.
The survey, written by Imperial College London researchers and published by BMC Public Health, also suggested that a large part of the population was aware of the new tax – but did not approve of it.
A report summarizing the findings said: ‘General population respondents were very aware of the sugar tax – 94% – but not very aware of the healthy food subsidy – 32%.
“Most respondents – 67% – felt that the tax was not an appropriate means of motivating healthier consumption due to the belief that the tax would not be effective and due to the high price of healthy foods. However, almost half – 48% – said they were consuming fewer taxed products, mainly for health reasons but also driven by price increases.
The researchers, who used the Bermuda omnibus survey results as the basis for their research, pointed out that opposition to the tax could have been reduced if consumers believed the revenue would be spent on health-related issues. .
One of the lead researchers, Kelsey Case, who also conducted face-to-face interviews for the study, is a Bermuda resident and public health researcher at Imperial College.
The report states: “The acceptability of health taxes is also influenced by how tax revenues are used. Greater public acceptability of taxes on sugary drinks has been reported when the revenue generated is used for public health, or when there is transparency between the taxes and the objectives they serve.
“Health taxes without transparency of primary purpose are particularly vulnerable to criticism. Bermuda’s sugar tax has been very successful in generating revenue – $4.7 million in 2019.
“However, despite being promoted as a public health measure, sugar tax revenues have contributed to the general tax fund without being earmarked for health. Informants were unaware of the use of tax revenue for health purposes or of new health initiatives arising from the revenue generated. This affected tax collections, with informants questioning whether the sugar tax was primarily financially motivated but promoted as a public health initiative.
“The intended use of tax revenue would have changed during the implementation of the policy, from use for specific health initiatives to use as general tax revenue.
“Countries designing similar policies should consider that public support for a new tax can be strengthened if there is a strong link between the tax objective and the use of the revenue.”
The report also suggests that health benefits could have been increased if the tax had been supported by education programs.
He concludes: “Using economic tools to incentivize consumer behavior is a recommended policy intervention to promote healthy eating and reduce obesity.
“However, motivating dietary change will require comprehensive fiscal policies that integrate education and health promotion and support healthy food environments, including increased availability and affordability of healthy substitutes.
“Bermuda’s sugar tax was implemented without these additional elements, which may limit the tax’s potential health impacts.”