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Sugar tax brings in €16.5m but addiction to fizzy drinks goes on

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Dr Donal O'Shea

Dr Donal O'Shea

Dr Donal O'Shea

Ireland's addiction to fizzy drinks shows no sign of abating as figures reveal the sugar tax has generated €16.5m this year.

The tax was introduced in May in a bid to curb sales of high-calorie, sugar-sweetened drinks which are contributing to our worrying levels of overweight and obesity.

There appears to have been an initial dip in May and June when it brought in €4.88m.

But the soaring temperatures of July and August had more of us reaching for a sugary drink to quench our thirst, sending tax revenue up €6.15m.

Even in cooler September and October the sugar tax provided a generous €5.5m for the Exchequer.

However, the money is being directed into general funds and is not earmarked for any health services, despite calls for the tax to be used in the fight against obesity. It may raise nearly €30m annually.

In the UK, the proceeds of the tax are directly targeted at improving sport in schools. The tax was introduced as a disincentive to consumers, particularly young people, to purchase sugary drinks.

One in four Irish children, who are the main target of the tax, are overweight or obese.

It has led to several soft drinks companies reformulating their recipes to reduce the amount of sugar in their products.

Some drinks, such as Lucozade, Fanta, Sprite and Vimto, changed their recipes so they contained less than five grams of sugar to avoid the tax.

Others, including Coca Cola and Pepsi, still produce varieties with the traditional sugar- sweetened recipe.

The tax allows a levy of 16c per litre for drinks with between 5-8g of sugar per 100ml.

It rises to 24c per litre for varieties with more than 8g.

OBESITY

When VAT is included, this works out at 20c per litre for drinks with between 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, and 30c per litre for drinks with more than 8g of sugar per 100ml.

Consumers who are watching their calories should bear in mind, however, they will still contain more than one spoonful of sugar.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Donal O'Shea, the HSE's clinical lead for obesity who also runs the obesity clinic in Loughlinstown Hospital, said it will take time to judge the impact of the sugar tax. He pointed out the introduction of the tax had forced many manufacturers to reformulate their products to cut the amount of sugar they contain.

He criticised the failure to invest the proceeds from the tax into much-needed public health measures to tackle overweight and obesity.

"There is zero increase in the budget for Healthy Ireland. That is a problem," he said.

Healthy Ireland is the Government's strategy to improve the health and well-being of the population by improving lifestyle habits and other measures.

A 330ml can of cola contains 139 calories and 35g of sugar - equivalent to more than eight teaspoons.

The amount of sugar a person should eat each day depends on how old they are.

Children aged four to six years old should be limited to a maximum of 19g per day.

Seven to 10-year-olds should have no more than 24g, and children aged 11 and over should have 30g or less.


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