News | Published July 05 2019

Boris Johnson promises review on so-called ‘sin taxes’

Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson has stated his intent to review the effectiveness of taxes on unhealthy life choices, so-called 'sin taxes'. To assess the response to this proposal, we spoke to Elly McFahn, the managing director of Brio Leisure, who provide leisure and health opportunities to the residents of West Cheshire. 

Johnson wants to determine whether the ‘sugar tax’ introduced in 2018 is proving effective amid concern that it is targeting less well-off families.

Boris said he will not introduce any similar levies until a thorough review takes place; a move which has come under fire from campaigners and former Conservative health minister, Steve Brine.

Once we leave the EU on 31 October, we will have a historic opportunity to change the way politics is done in this country

Incumbent health secretary Matt Hancock, despite backing Johnson in the leadership contest, recommends extending the sugar tax to cover additional items such as milkshakes in an upcoming green paper.

England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, is also known to be weighing up the prospect of taxing all foods deemed unhealthy.

The soft drinks industry levy currently excludes pure fruit juice drinks and beverages high in milk due to their high calcium levels, and Johnson believes more taxation will simply “clobber” low-income households who cannot afford it.

Johnson said: ”If we want people to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, we should encourage people to walk, cycle and generally do more exercise.

"Rather than just taxing people more, we should look at how effective the so-called 'sin taxes' [on food and drink] really are, and if they actually change behaviour.”

"Once we leave the EU on 31 October, we will have a historic opportunity to change the way politics is done in this country. A good way to start would be basing tax policy on clear evidence.”

Cancer Research UK recently published findings ranking obesity as a greater cause of cancer than smoking and chief executive Michelle Mitchell believes taxation has had "a positive effect”.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, labelled Johnson’s proposal “short-sighted”.

She said: ”We should be building on the success of the sugar levy, not turning back the clock on the progress that has been made so far.

"The success of fiscal measures in supporting the public's health has been demonstrated in other areas such as tobacco and alcohol taxation.”

This view was echoed by Elly McFahn, the managing director of Brio Leisure. She told The Review: "The sugar tax is very important in addressing the obesity challenges we have, alongside supporting a reduction in cases of diabetes.

Brio Leisure supported the sugar tax by adding a financial supplement to pass on the cost of the sugar tax, and this also encouraged sales of sugar free alternatives

"A growing number of children in West Cheshire and Chester are overweight or obese, so a joined up approach locally is needed to tackle this issue.

"We are working as part of a borough wide collaboration, the 'Eat Well, Be Active Partnership Group' and have signed up to the local authority's 'Declaration on Healthy Weight.' This works across on a range of areas and includes the reduction in sugary drinks from our catering outlets." 

Alongside working in partnership, Brio Leisure have also called for greater regulation, arguing: "Going forward, further options could be explored. For example, the sugar tax currently does not cover milk-based drinks i.e. milkshakes.

"Bottled milkshakes can be just as packed with sugar as carbonated sugary drinks. We've already taken an approach to this, and Brio Cafes do not sell bottled milkshakes in support of this issue."

The sugar tax has also directly affected the popularity of sugary drinks, the additional price leading to lower sales. McFahn explained: "Brio Leisure supported the sugar tax by adding a financial supplement to pass on the cost of the sugar tax, and this also encouraged sales of sugar free alternatives. 

"This has been successful and sales of full sugar drinks dropped dramatically, prompting us to remove them from sale all together and only offer their sugar free counterparts. 

"Brio Cafes have now embraced the sugar tax and listed a drinks range which takes people away from sugar loaded drinks. We also sell variety of fruit juices, milk, and other products in the cafes to broaden the range of healthy choices.

"The vending operation at Brio Leisure is currently undergoing review to ensure that sugary drinks, and milk based sugary drinks, are also removed from sale in support of sugar free alternatives.

"We also work closely with health agencies to ensure children who are overweight get opportunity to access leisure activities following assessment on the child weight measurement programme, so that physical activity becomes an integral aspect of healthy lifestyles, alongside healthy eating."

Meanwhile, The Department of Health and Social Care have revealed that the sugar tax has prompted drinks distributors to reduce the sugar content in their recipes, which became equivalent to a removal of 45 million kilograms of sugar in drinks per year.

A spokesperson said in a statement that: “Our policies on obesity and public health have always been guided by evidence and will continue to be in the future”.

Johnson’s leadership rival, Jeremy Hunt, has expressed a preference to crackdown on food manufacturers over consumers, “threatening” them with legislation if they do not comply with amending unhealthy products.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
July 05 2019

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