Dear Member of Parliament,
We write to you because of our concern for our country’s health, especially the women and children, who suffer from severe obesity and overweight. A recent report from Stats SA indicates that 68% of South African women are overweight or obese, and the numbers for children are twice the global average. These levels are directly linked to South Africa’s high rate of deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
We urge you to address this head on by preventing obesity through policies that dramatically reduce sugar consumption in our country. The sugary drink tax has proven to be effective in addressing these health problems.
We strongly urge you to support the sugary drink tax. This letter highlights three reasons:
- Delaying the sugary drink tax will cost lives and health care dollars.
The diseases caused by sugary drinks are swamping our health system. The rates of obesity and overweight have increased dramatically over the last fifteen years. As a result, more people are prone to NCDs, such as high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, some cancers and diabetes. In fact, diabetes is the biggest killer of South African women, according to Stats SA. NCDs now cause more deaths than AIDS in South Africa and cost our country 6.8% of GDP. Our health facilities and health workers cannot cope. The job losses from sick workers are huge.
- The beverage industry is disseminating fake news and job loss is a hoax.
The Beverage Association of SA (BevSA) paid two research companies, Oxford Economics and Econex, to produce reports that exaggerated job losses from the tax.
Since those alarmist reports, Treasury has cut the tax in half so the possibility of job loss is even more remote. BevSA knows that when a SSB tax is introduced, people switch to other beverages – e.g. from Coke to Coke Zero. In addition, the industry is reformulating their products to reduce sugar content. The industry is unlikely to close plants because of the tax. In Mexico, which introduced a 10% SSB tax in 2013, there have been no job losses–and Mexicans drink far more sugary drinks than South Africans. The tobacco industry used the same scare tactics in the early 1990s.
- The need to re-skill sugar farmers.
Small sugar farmers have appealed to politicians to reject the sugary drink tax to protect their livelihoods. But medical science is against them. There is widespread consensus that excessive sugar consumption is driving NCDs.
Treasury should use some of the proceeds of the sugary drink tax to help re-skill sugar farmers. The Department of Trade and Industry should investigate using sugar as biofuel, as food and beverage producers will need less sugar in the future.
Your delay will cost lives. The SSB tax gives all politicians the opportunity to rise above narrow factional politics and protect all South Africans—particularly the poor and women those who are most likely to be overweight and obese. Remove the elderly.
Do the right thing for Mzanzi. Support the sugary drink tax. Protect our country’s health and not special interests that target profits over lives.
The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA)
Every South African has the right to access clean drinking water and healthy food. The Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is an alliance of organisations and thousands of interested South Africans with this mission in mind. Its current member organisations are: Health-e News Services, Health Promotion and Development Foundation, Khulisa Social Solutions, Rural Health Advocacy Project, Section 27, South African Dental Association (SADA), South African Paediatric Association (SAPA), Motse’s Bone Vitality Centre, Amandla.mobi, Society for Endocrinology Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (SEMDSA) and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).