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Following the SA Canegrowers Association’s unsubstantiated claim that the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) has led to the loss of 16 000 jobs, the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) feels it is important to dispute the claim as baseless and unfounded. 

Researchers from SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science, Priceless SA, used a single-group interrupted time series analyses using the Quarterly Labour Force Survey data from Statistics South Africa to find out how many jobs were lost due to the implementation of the HPL. The study, released in 2024 found no evidence of job losses due to the levy. 

The true cost of sugar consumption

The science is clear that the over-consumption of sugar in liquid form is highly dangerous for our health. Evidence shows that “Independent of the “empty” calories from sugary drinks, the sugars in sugary drinks alter the body’s metabolism, affecting insulin, cholesterol, and metabolites that cause high blood pressure and inflammation. These changes to the body increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, and liver disease.”  

The aim of the Health Promotion Levy (HPL) is to reduce local demand and consumption of refined white sugar and safeguard the health of all South Africans. 

South Africa is seeing an explosion of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases like diabetes, and heart disease. An estimated 7 in 10 women and 1 in 3 men in the country are obese and overweight. South Africans cannot be forced to continue to consume high levels of sugar for the sake of the sugar industry. The same industry, which laments the so called effects of the HPL, has been rocked by numerous scandals of mismanagement and fraud.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

While the SA Canegrowers Association misrepresents the truth, tax payers and the state are bearing the huge cost of overweight and obesity. A 2022 study from Priceless SA found that these diseases “are costing South Africa’s health system R33 billion (US$1.9bn) a year. This represents 15.38% of government health expenditure and is equivalent to 0.67% of GDP. Annual per person cost of overweight and obesity is R2,769.”

On the other hand, from its inception on 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2021, the HPL has generated R7.9 billion in cumulative revenue from domestically produced and imported products. Specifically, collections in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 were R3.2 billion, R2.5 billion and R2.1 billion respectively.  An increase in the HPL to the recommended 20% could almost double the revenue collected by Treasury.

Pivoting to Biofuels

Times are changing. South Africa needs to join countries like India who have moved away from a consumption model to keep the industry afloat towards the production of ethanol for biofuel production. The sugar industry has been given two years to focus on diversification by the government. Currently there is been no proof that they have used that time in good faith.

Change will come

Obesity is a complex issue that requires a multipronged approach. Slowing down and reversing the trend will take some time. We cannot allow the trend to continue unabated. It is clear that the government urgently needs to put in place evidence-based solutions to get the process started, including increasing the levy to 20% and adding fruit juices in the HPL.

In less than a decade since its implementation the HPL has had positive results. Following the implementation of the HPL young adults in Langa in the Western Cape aged 18-39 years reported they drank 37% less sugar sweetened beverages and reduced sugar intake by nearly a third (31%).