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20% sugar tax on the cards for South Africa

20% sugar tax on the cards for South Africa

The Democratic Alliance (DA) says that government’s plan to hike taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks by 20% will lead to an increase in food prices, that will hit the poor.

The South African National Department of Health has set a target of reducing the number of people who are obese or overweight by 10% by 2020.

A report by Boston based Tufts University, published in the journal Circulation, found that sugary drinks may lead to an estimated 184,000 adult deaths each year globally.

Alarmingly, South Africa was ranked second in the world for deaths related to sugary drinks – below only Mexico.

By 2017, at current rates of consumption, sugar-filled beverages will contribute to over 9 million adults being obese in South Africa.

The sugar tax is one part of the strategy to break this trend. In theory, the tax would make the cost of cool drinks higher, making them less affordable and thus less appealing to consumers.

However, according to the DA, not only will the tax not have the desired effect – it will have a knock-on effect to other foods, which will ultimately hurt the poor most of all, as they cannot afford alternative forms of sugar.

“Minister Motsoaledi (should) rather focus on both diet and exercise interventions rather than interfering with the already overbearing tax regime,” the party said.

Why  a sugar tax isn’t the way

The party cited academic studies which show that South Africans have diets that lack fruit and vegetables, and are high in fat and sugar.

The studies also highlighted that most South Africans living in the rural areas and townships have limited access to facilities to exercise.

“Campaigns to transform diets and greater access to exercise facilities should be the priority in eradicating obesity,” the DA said.

“It is difficult to compel consumers to eat healthier foods by making unhealthy foods expensive. There are always cheaper, fizzier and sweeter alternatives on offer.”

According to the party, Mexico introduced a 10% sugar tax, and only saw a 6.4% drop in sales, a 10% drop in sugary drink consumption and a 7% rise in bottled water sales.

“With such feeble results, proposed tax hikes will firstly take longer than the intended five years (2015 – 2020) to reduce obesity by 10%, secondly, the poor will have to bear the brunt of higher food prices over the entirety of this extended period,” the DA said.

More on sugar tax

Why South Africa needs a sugar tax

South Africa’s sugary drinks shock

SA drinks tax could promote health: Wits

Soft drinks and juices lead the way to obesity in SA

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  • Danny Baromen

    Why don’t they try and find a way to make healthy food cheaper than junk food?

    • HoekomSoPodcast

      Tax the products, not the ingredients. Kan werk!

      • Nextlevel

        use the sugar tax to subsidize healthy food?

        • anon

          Even better, use the money to subsidize small fresh produce growers in poor areas. This should make more people grow their own / get from someone close by. If we could get everyone to have better brain health we’d have less crime and a “healthier” economy.

          • Klaus Muller

            Have you considered the cost of transport to consumer or are you prepared to collect? Have seen exactly that scenario in Zim & Bots, small scale farmers are sitting with unsalable products as they cannot afford transport costs

          • anon

            I’m actually saying that the traditional farming model is unsustainable. If you don’t live in a big city you should be able to walk to the place you get your fruit and veg. Semi-rural areas have lots of unused space and lots of unused labour. Instead of giving out money based on number of children they should give out money to subsidize these “local growers”. Its not a complete solution its just an idea to help semi-rural guys. The idea that they travel 20kms into town to buy something they or their neighbours could have grown is crazy to me. Butternut, lettuce, maize, beetroot, beans, and a bunch of other things can be grown in the back yard. Subsidising these guys would motivate some of them to work, grannies and children could be helping their families earn income and get healthier food.

          • Klaus Muller

            I totally agree with your thinking, but, right or wrong, as long as we have a system of entitlement & “free grants” this will be difficult to achieve. As an aside, Austria wants to force youngsters (potential school leavers) either to enter into apprenticeships or continue with further schooling, fines of up to 1000 euros for non compliance, reason being, to many social grant recipients & taxpayers are fed up

          • peterq

            Great idea, but were is the corruption in that? This ANC only do something for the money or votes.

          • Pulltheotherone

            Great idea, but sadly not as easy as it sounds. I grow my own veg and thought my worker could do the same in his rural community. He says there’s no water to spare, even the small amounts for a little veg patch have to be carried in.

        • AfricanAfrikaner

          That’s a good suggestion!!

        • Fred Johnson

          Good thinking, but administratively- not SA!

        • BrS

          What is healthy food?

          • Nextlevel

            Low sugar high nutrient, unprocessed vegetables!

          • BrS

            We can prove a particular diet is unhealthy. We can demonstrate one is not unhealthy. It isn’t really possible prove a diet is healthy (as in more beneficial than any other not unhealthy diet).

            Once we take into account the fact that everyone’s genetics would dictate a different optimal diet it becomes even more complicated.

          • Nextlevel

            You can’t be saying that increasing your proportional intake of unprocessed veg can be demonstrated as being unhealthy??

          • BrS

            And sugar is a nutrient.

          • Nextlevel

            True my bad. As a nutrient, sugar is pretty lame, delivering calories but none of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other good stuff bundled in sweet foods like apples, oranges and kiwis

    • AfricanAfrikaner

      Won’t ever happen. I lived in New York for three months last year. There a salad for lunch costs $11 where a McDonald’s big Mac meal was $5.99. It will always be cheaper to produce plastic compared to good nutritious food from the earth.

    • Ray Mulder

      Have you seen the price of Banting food?…it’s pathetic how people latch on as soon as there is a new fad by science claiming miracle cure diets.
      Woolworth’s has banting food which now costs more than all the other stuff…

      • Dimi Gronnings

        “Banting food” is expensive because there are idiots who are willing to pay more for some steamed veggies if they’re prepackaged and labelled “Low Carb!” Just learn for yourself what low carb foods are, buy the raw ingredients, and prepare them for yourself, you lazy punts.

  • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

    Something I would actually like to see if bottled water being cheaper. I pay R8.50 for a 750ml Bonaqua pump. Make that R5 and I will probably only buy that.

    The problem becomes the sheer amount of plastic bottles we end up dumping.

    I think if we can speak to the how expensive healthy food can get it would also help. White bread is the cheapest option.

    Edit: corrected my terrible spelling etc…

    • You have access to cheap water, it’s in the tap.

      • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

        Wonderfully amazing observation you have made there.

        What happens when I am in PnP and want water or I want something cold to drink or I don’t have a container or cup to drink from?

        You are trying to replace a norm, that people buy soft drinks, with people buying water instead. The water in the tap has always been there and yet they do not do it.

        • Snowlockk

          The water in the tap while purer than America’s is getting worse every year. Soon we will have to buy bottled water.

          • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

            That is also true. I have thought this as well. I keep cold water in my fridge in bottles and have been for years.

            I have noticed at times the water tastes a bit different. I hope they really focus on this and keep our tap water drinkable.

          • Snowlockk

            Just like every service in the country it will become useless.

          • observer111

            What’s really weird is that I have been drinking borehole water for a year now and it is completely tasteless. Tap water tastes “better” for some reason …. but that makes me wonder what all the chemicals are that were added to it.

    • Chris Swanepoel

      That is an expensive bottle of water… 🙂

      • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

        Hahahahahaha! Only saw that now! edited. Thanks for letting me know xD

  • Adi *

    Haha. Crazy world we live in hey… Rather than come down hard on the big corporations (amongst others) providing us with these over-sweetened drinks, they rather tax the consumer more. It really is nuts!

  • Tax food products high in carbs, sugar, fat. Then the poor will end up having to eat grass.

    • Kalashnik0v23

      Hence why the public are sometimes called sheep

    • Boba Fett

      I “herd” about a church you can join to do the same. Fancy that?

    • AfricanAfrikaner

      Tax pap. That may be the cause of more obesity than you’d believe.

    • Ray Mulder

      Hey!? is it legal already? I prefer to smoke mine but if I gotta eat it to be legal then where’s my pot 🙂

    • Claude

      The “poor” of the world have always lived without food like products that are high in refined sugar and have always consumed a diet that’s high in simple carbohydrates. The so called “poor” are not so “poor” if they can afford a 2Lt Coke (water as a healthy alternative comes to mind..).

      I think that this is a great idea, people are stupid when it comes to making choices for themselves more so when it has to do with what they put inside their mouths..

  • Snowlockk

    First of all, where does this tax go to? The ANC? Are they just trying to create a new feeding trough? Secondly how are you going to impose this on all the little spazza shops?

  • Dreigorian


  • Broscientist

    Why don’t they just legalize weed? Colorado are now collecting more tax revenue from weed sales than from booze.

    • WookieJebus

      Unfortunately the only thing that will lead to in SA is a decrease in the time Zuma needs to wait between his new cars.

    • Ray Mulder

      Because you cannot eat weed and be unhappy at the same time 🙂

  • This Guy

    Zuma needs to finish his highway, so cough up people.

  • Lacrimose Wolfe

    Hmm, it seems that all the country’s woes can be solved by increased taxation. It’s an imagined quick-fix. The next step is to ban advertising – but of course never the dangerous goods themselves. We’ve seen it with alcohol & tobacco. They’re all terrible and will kill you but will continue to be sold because they’re not that terrible and will only kill you slowly. Slowly enough for the govt to make their %. It’s an absurd system

    • peterq

      You are going to see a huge increase in all taxes and nothing will change, they need to fix what they broke before it will do any good.

    • Jon Low

      Banning advertising of socially-unacceptable goods and services is a very good, and very effective tool, in driving down LONG-TERM demand. The ban on tobacco ads has removed the “cool” factor from smoking for youngsters who haven’t taken up smoking yet.

      Of course it cannot wipe out demand totally — just as how illegal drugs will always have a market despite there being no advertising. But advertisers know that the huge sums they spend on advertising is worth it — it is economically irrational to throw away money for little or no return.

      When you ring-bark a market by an ad-ban, it dies over time.

  • The Fly

    Sugar in SA is a bigger problem than starchy carbs???

    • Boba Fett

      I doubt it they should compare coke to pap sales

  • Skoppienaai Sewinduit

    So, can I take this to mean that my Coke Zero will cost a whole lot less than Coke regular? Probably not, dodgy retailers will just push up the price on both, even though the one contains zero sugar.

    • Ray Mulder

      Will serve you right for drinking that stuff… It’s poison brother. .and it ruins the little pleasures in life…and imagine Rum and Coke zero. 🙂

      • LBS

        Hie hie he he ha ha, good one!

      • Skoppienaai Sewinduit

        I prefer Brannas. And it tastes just fine with Coke Zero. 🙂 I know the “Zero” drinks are not ideal, artificial sweeteners are also bad for you, but the amount of sugar in regular coke is just insane. The risk of diabetes from artificial sweeteners is lower than from sugar.

  • Naqsh

    Welcome Communism.
    If someone is concerned about their health – they will choose not to buy sugar, we dont need a tax.
    184 000 Global deaths? 20%? Are you friggin kidding me?
    Who comes up with this crap????

    • Nextlevel

      but in africa most are too uneducated / low iq to figure out what is unhealthy. They rely on aggressive advertising as their education and their resulting ill health costs the country

  • Ray Mulder

    So the government decides what we eat and drink now? Or is this just a corrupt and sneaky way of taxing the majority?

  • It’s-a-fact

    Sure, kick the economy while it’s down!

    If only this tax was (really) meant to improve the population’s health, but it’s not, it’s just another way of ciphering more cash into the corrupt government from where it mysteriously disappears.

    On the bright side, this tax, unlike most other new taxes doesn’t discriminate on class, the poor will be hit as well, maybe that’ll swing some votes away from the ANC.

  • Joe Justice

    This is a great idea. people do not understand what a HUGE burden sugar is on a national healthcare system, with a significant proportion of national healthcare spend going directly to diseases and illnesses attributable to sugar abuse. The sugar tax must be applied to healthcare. This worked with great success in multiple US states.

    • Ray Mulder

      So why should those who only have it in moderation then also pay more if its aimed at the obese? Thousand of people have sugar in a controlled way and are far from obese.

      • Joe Justice

        It is not only obesity that is an issue. It is the toll it takes on the healthcare system due to various illnesses like Diabetes, several types of cancer that is linked to the use of sugar, also direct links have been made between refined Sugar and the absolute epidemic of new ADHD cases we see in South African children. You pay for that right now through your taxes, which means your taxes are not being applied for infrastructure, education and such.

        That is obviously with the caveat that these sugar taxes are actually applied to bolster the health system. That may be the only valid argument against a sugar tax, if one can prove that the sugar tax will not be used for the benefit of the national healthcare system as they have done in other countries.

        The taxation of sugar in other countries have shown a direct effect upon the general state of health in the nations that sugar taxes have been applied. But again, only if the taxes are applied correctly. But that is an argument around governance.

        The basic fact remains that added and refined Sugar is not beneficial to human health in any way, quite the opposite. Our bodies do not need added sugar, and what sugars we need our bodies produce from vegetables and meat.

        A direct link can be made between the usage of refined sugar in foods and the cost of the healthcare system. It must be seen exactly as we view alcohol, cigarettes and other such substances. It is not an innocuous product.

      • Jon Low

        Those who use it sparingly will obviously be buying and consuming much less of these taxed substances and so they’ll be evading much of the tax burden.

        • Ray Mulder

          Next thing is well be paying extra tax on cars because they cause the death of people. You should rather make the culprit pay for his her obesity. Each should be individually burdened by their indiscretions not everyone in the country.

          • Jon Low

            We already DO pay for cars — and for the petrol we use. When you tax sugar, only the sugar users pay the sugar tax. And the more they use, the more tax they pay. Just like the petrol levy.

          • Ray Mulder

            I said extra tax. We already pay tax on everything in accordance with our consumption, it’s called VAT. Why now more tax on the tax.

          • Jon Low

            It’s a consumption surtax, aiming a reducing consumption. If you consume less, you pay less. Your tax liability is under your own control.

          • Ray Mulder

            So is VAT on my chocolates a consumption surtax. Call it what you like I choose to disagree with it purely on the principle of having to pay extra tax for something I do not abuse.

          • Jon Low

            If you don’t use it, you pay no tax on it, as you aren’t buying it.

  • Ray Mulder

    So soon they will be selling sugar by prescription only and the next thing everyone will have to go to a doctor and pay for a prescription for our food fix.

  • Frank McDuff

    Tax junk food the same as they tax smokers….billions would be saved on medical care.

    • It’s-a-fact

      Nope, billions will mysteriously be misappropriated.

      • Frank McDuff

        That’s also true. The upside would be less obese sweaty and smelly people running around.

    • There is sugar in any food, even healthy food. As you can see from the report above, the people most affected are those who cannot afford fruit and vegetables and who rely on cheap food containing fat and sugar.

      You are in effect taxing the poor for being too poor to afford decent food. I don’t see how this helps them to afford decent food.

      • Frank McDuff

        Very unlikely they will implement this tax. The sugar industry will fight this tooth and nail with a few million here and there, problem solved. As we all know money talks with this current bunch in power. Not going to happen.

      • peterq

        If only it was about healthy eating, it is just another way to tax you.

  • EternityZA

    Well if they are taxing more then that money from the taxis meant to go somewhere – like towards diet education programs. So they can do both. That is IF the money doesn’t land in some fat cat politicians pocket

    • AfricanAfrikaner

      You’re mistaken if you think the funds will be well spent by our thieving current leadership in this country.

  • AfricanAfrikaner

    I don’t agree. We have enough taxes already as individuals in this country. Tax the producer on the levels of sugar and/or lessen the sugar levels in all drinks by making a specific level of sugar acceptable by legislation.

    • Same as with salt, what was found is that when food is not salty enough, consumers just add more salt.

      I venture that sugarholics will do the same: If it’s not sweet enough, they will just add more sugar.

      It’s not a good idea to try and fix these things with taxation. As a nation we are already taxed on par with European nations, but without all the first world benefits. It really is time for government to come to the table and deliver, instead of just shaking our pockets each time they encounter a problem.

  • Wayne Gemmell

    Complaining that taxing sugar drinks will increase food prices seems a bit disingenuous. Add soft drinks to the ‘sin’ tax basket.

  • Michael

    Sugar tax is a way to get more tax money, nothing else.

    • LBS

      Exactly! It won’t stop with fizzy drinks either, as just about EVERYTHING contains sugar.

      • Jon Low

        True — tomato sauce, for instance, is extremely sugary even though the taste of it does not seem unduly sweet. But food testing, certification and labelling is a worldwide standard practice and the tax-man will easily track and tax foods with a sugar content above a set limit.

        • Diane Acker

          there is more sugar in tomato sauce than ice-cream

  • Wyzak

    And let me guess this will apply to both normal Coke and Coke Zero?

  • Snowlockk

    Wait don’t we currently have a drought going on? So we will increase the cost of an alternative refreshment supply than the taps(which have run dry in some places). Is this not a problem?

  • Rob Hutchinson

    What joke, taxation does NOT change consumer behavior in any way whatsoever. A perfect example is the tax on alcohol and tobacco which has done nothing to lower associated fatalities or illness. This is just another revenue stream for government.

    • Jon Low

      Higher prices DO drive down consumption of all “demand-elastic” goods and services. Simple data-gathering confirms this.

      Demand-inelastic goods are, however, different. A drug-addict or alcoholic will not cut down on his drug purchasing if the price goes up, and nor will someone on a life-giving medication without which they will die. They will keep the money available to make these inelastic purchases by cutting back on other stuff that involve less hardship when done without. They’ll even do without electricity or rent, and sleep on the street, or get a cheaper or illegal drug substitute if it exists.

      Sugary food is demand-elastic, much more so than booze.

      • Joe Justice

        Jon, your logic is faultless.

  • Kerusha G

    A 10% drop in sugary drink consumption is not a feeble achievement, DA. What other measure would produce such a positive effect, besides banning the substance altogether?

    Stop being naysayers and come up with valid alternatives. “Campaigns to transform diets and greater access to exercise facilities”? You can campaign till the cows come home, I don’t think you will achieve a 10% drop.

    You need to up your game and rise to the title of Opposition party.

    • And how has the carbon emissions tax helped to put clean energy vehicles on our roads?

  • Mike

    Growing up as kids we ate heaps of sugar, with very little obesity??? We lived outside playing soccer, and only came indoors when it got dark. Is sugar the real culprit here?

    • Jon Low

      No Playstations, computers or even television back then, so playing games outdoors was the only way to amuse oneself in company.

  • Hennie

    People living in the rural areas have limited access to facilities to exercise. What rubbish!! What happened to walking, jogging and cycling. It is more difficult to practice the aforesaid in the cities than the rural areas. Specialized sports like tennis might be difficult in obtaining facilities.

  • Adoons

    Excellent idea. We are “forced” to cosume to many products that are high in sugar. It is one of our biggest enemies in our diets.

  • Honda

    Probably not a health issue but a revenue issue i.e. more money needed to steal and waste.

    • peterq

      That is exactly it. This is a kind of stealth tax, almost quite clever really.

  • Rob Charlton

    It seems to be beyond the imagination of the ruling party to actually promote something good. All they seem to be able to do is devise more ways to take money away from people with no regard to accounting for its use. Examples of this are the plastic bag levy, levies on fuel, licences etc. How about promoting healthy eating rather than giving wholesalers and retailers another avenue to raise prices? Many of the people worst affected by the (hidden) sugar content in foods are unaware of its existence, and of the damage it might be causing them. They need to be educated to make better choices, not penalised for being “normal” and enjoying sweet things.

    • Jon Low

      Promoting healthier foods would require them to be subsidised, to reduce the price charged for them. And where will the subsidy come from? Yes, you, the taxpayer.

      • Rob Charlton

        I find it a bit sad that you believe people make decisions about their health on the basis of price, when if you think about it, doing so is actually a contradiction. Promotion of healthy eating may or may not require subsidisation, it is not a given. If subsidisation is required, then why cannot it be sourced from redirection of other spending? it does not necessarily have to increase the tax burden. Innovative and imaginative thinking will be required.

        • Jon Low

          If price were no object, people would all be buying fillet steak rather tha rump or chuck. The hard reality is tthat price is THE biggest driver of consumer demand.

          If promotion of healthy eating were possible without price-subsidisation but merely by education, then the massive promotional educational campaigns would need to be paid for out of tax revenues.

          If you “redirect other spending” then it’s still tax money that you’re redirecting. And whatever it is redirected from has to make do with less. We all know that this will not be spending currently directed at government departments or on the perks of parliamentarians. It will come from having fewer high-wage teachers, doctors, nurses, etc on the state payroll.

  • Jon Low

    Simple economics dictates that an increased price leads to lower demand. And so the idea of heavily taxing sugar is no different to taxing alcohol and tobacco — the so-called “sin taxes”. There is no reason NOT to drive down demand via taxation as these items are non-essential. If the higher price drives them out of the market, it’s a social good, not a social harm.

  • André Dalen

    In this instance, -1 DA and +1 Government. Wow, I can’t believe I actually admitted to that!

  • ChantOlive

    sugar tax??? for what? Sugar is so @#$@# expensive these days already !! F@#$#@ the ANC and there continuous taxing and bleeding us dry!

  • Silver King

    Do we not already pay a 14% tax on all purchased goods?

  • Andre Stols

    Whilst busy taxing, please, BIG PLEASE, TAX alcohol heavily by at least 500 % plus. a bottle of brandy, whisky, gin, vodka etc should cost not less than R 500,00 for the cheapest type bottle and wine no less than R 200,00. a 340ml bottle beer should cost at least R 100,00 plus a bottle. very big please, authorities.

  • TheZenOfZen

    Taxing sugar will not magically stop people eating sugar. It’s
    addictive. People will just pay more and we will have the same issues,
    but with ALL food prices going up.

    Unfortunately our govt. doesn’t know any other strategy other than tax. It’s their go-to problem solver with the benefit of making more money for a corrupt regime.

    Did plastic bag tax have any influence?

  • NoNeed

    Not too mention that McDonalds will still be cheaper.

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