Passing of sugary drinks tax sets scene for fight-back against obesity epidemic

MEDIA RELEASE

Johannesburg (21 November 2017) – By passing legislation that enables government to introduce a tax on sugary beverages, the National Assembly has set the scene – at last – for a national fight-back against the twin epidemics of obesity and non-communicable diseases.

In a sitting of the National Assembly this afternoon, the Rates and Monetary Amounts and Revenue Laws Amendment Bill was passed with the support of all parties.

The amendment bill provides in general terms for a Health Promotion Levy and a schedule to the bill specifies that this will take the form of a tax on sugary beverages.

“It is extremely encouraging that members of parliament from across the political spectrum appreciate the seriousness of the non-communicable disease epidemic we are confronting as a nation,” said Tracey Malawana, coordinator of the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA).

“We desperately need high-level leadership to get a grip on this health crisis. We require laws and policies that assist people to live and eat more healthily in a world where rampant commercialism has produced a toxic environment.”

South African mortality figures indicate that heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other obesity-related diseases account for about 55% of deaths in the country.

Provided that the National Council of Provinces gives its assent, the Bill will become law and Treasury has indicated that the tax is likely to come into effect on 1 April 2018.

During protracted discussions on the sugary drinks tax in the Standing Committee on Finance, Treasury cited studies that showed the toll that non-communicable diseases were taking on the health system and the economy. These include:

  • Early retirement, absenteeism and presenteeism due to non-communicable diseases carry economic costs equal to 6.8% of GDP, and this figure is predicted to rise to 7% by 2030. (US Chamber of Commerce 2015 report, The impact of wellness on workforce productivity in global markets).
  • Public sector primary healthcare facilities spent R7 billion on treatment for non-communicable diseases in 2014/15 – more than they spent on HIV treatment. (University of KwaZulu-Natal costing study)
  • Private sector spending on diagnosing and treating non-communicable diseases absorbs 45% of all private sector health spending. (National Health Accounts)

“Obesity is only one of the risk factors for communicable diseases and a sugary drinks tax is one of several strategies that are required to combat obesity,” Malawana said. “So, it is clear we still have a long, uphill road to travel and more policies to consider.

“HEALA will be pushing for a stronger tax in the coming years and we will also be monitoring government expenditure to ensure that the proceeds from the tax will be spent on health promotion.

“But we are pleased that South Africa has made a start with an impactful, national intervention that has been proven to cut sugar consumption elsewhere in the world. The public debate on the sugary drinks tax has also raised awareness about obesity and non-communicable diseases and South Africans are right behind government’s efforts to develop pro-health policies.”

A 2017 survey of South Africans in major cities, commissioned by HEALA and conducted independently by Genesis Analytics, showed that seven out of 10 people support the sugary drinks tax provided that the revenue is used for programmes to benefit the public.

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Healthy Living Alliance

Every South African has a right to access clean drinking water and healthy food. HEALA is an alliance of organisations with this mission in mind.

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