Should we have a sugar tax?


Michael Watson questions whether the Government will act on sugar

Michael Watson compares the public opinion over fluoridation and a sugar tax.

Public opinion is an odd thing.

Suggest that children’s teeth would be protected by adding one part per million of fluoride to the drinking water and people are up in arms, meetings, petitions, lobbying you name it.

If you live in Scotland, just forget it ever since the judge Lord Jauncey, declared in 1982 that fluoridation was illegal.

But fizzy drinks manufacturers can put seven or eight spoons of sugar in your child’s drink and they don’t even have to tell you.

Sugary drink tax

The best we have by way of protest is an e-petition with over 150,000 signatures calling for a tax on sugary drinks, which will be debated in Westminster Hall on 30 November.

But Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, who chairs the Health Committee, is out to challenge the sugar lobby.

Her committee’s report, also published on 30 November, has called for labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons and a sugary drinks tax (of 20%) on full sugar soft drinks, in order to help change behaviour.

The committee also wants ‘bold and urgent action’ from the Government including strong controls on price promotions and tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink, as well as a ‘centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink.’


Now the committee’s investigation, including evidence from chef Jamie Oliver, centered on childhood obesity, but its conclusions and recommendations apply with equal force to dentistry.

Ever since the notorious Vipeholm experiments in the 1950s, sugar has been enemy number one as far as the dental profession is concerned.

But not everyone is convinced.

Unsurprisingly Food and Drink Federation director general, Ian Wright, said the committee’s report was ‘disappointing’.

He said: ‘No-one seems to have considered hard-pressed consumers in all this.

‘As a result of the arbitrary new tax recommended by the committee, which would leave consumers paying significantly more, every week, for the products they love.’

The kids might be leaner, fitter and have better teeth, but don’t interfere with parents’ right to stuff them full of sugar.

The Government has promised a ‘comprehensive strategy’ but, in the past, they have always opposed levying a sugar tax or tougher controls on the industry.


  1. 1

    I agree entirely. But ‘teaspoons’?

    ‘No-one seems to have considered hard-pressed consumers’
    Sorry, Mr Wright, the consumers are the main beneficiaries of the scheme. Your members will also benefit by not having to buy so much sugar.

  2. 2

    Clearly the state of dental health and general health are a big concern and have been for some time. Therefore the government feel the need to do something about it, by introducing this sugar tax which @ 20% is like adding VAT to the products. Not sure if people with sugar addiction will be put off, it may encourage people to buy sugar free alternatives. However what is required is a public health strategy based on a needs assessment in areas where people need the oral health promotion intervention and help so this tax should be used to pay for interventions. Government need to review the 2000 ‘York’ report regarding fluoridation, and national and local DMFT levels. Interventions should be geared to educating parents and schools and rationing sweet products etc. Not that long ago 50’s and 60’s, 70’s schools offered school dinners which were well balanced and sensible nutritionally. Also over the generations kids used to play outside and participate in PE more than they do now, so I think the lack of exercise plays a large part in this problem. Trouble is everything is convenience. Overall I think we mollycoddle, I think common sense has gone out of the vocabulary too. Basic Home economics should be re-introduced into schools at secondary level so children can be taught basics in good healthy cooking such as making an omelet etc. In essence yes I agree with putting the tax on, but the money should be directed to try and educate in schools.

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