Ministry of Health Science Advisor says Sugar Tax could benefit low income households

A soft drink surrounded by sugar.
A soft drink surrounded by sugar. Photo credit: File

A briefing from Ministry of Health Science Advisor John Potter says a sugar tax could save lives, cut health costs and benefit low-income communities.

The briefing, requested by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in February this year, contains 19 bullet points of evidenced-based support for a sugar tax, NZME reported.

It highlights a Berkeley study, which showed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) encouraged low-income communities to drink less of the sugary drinks and more water. This change resulted from a tax of 1 percent per 30 grams.

"Reduction of consumption via a tax will probably be greatest among the households with the lowest disposable income," Professor Potter said.

 "In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific will benefit strongly."

Prof Potter, a Professor at the centre for Public Health at Massey University, cautioned a tax should be based on the sugar content, not on the item's price value. He suggested a 20 percent tax could work.

The briefing was released to NZME under an Official Information Act request. Sugar tax opponent Eric Crampton, chief economist at the New Zealand Initiative Think Tank, has criticised it for failing to mention a review commissioned by the ministry only a month before.

The review, carried out by NZIER, comes to the opposite conclusion. According to Dr Crampton, it "found that the more rigorous studies found effects too small to plausibly generate health benefits."

 The Prime Minister's office said the briefing was provided due to media interest in the issue, but that "the Government is not actively considering a tax on sugar or sugary beverages at this time."


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