Skip to main content

India's "welcome" proposal to impose sin tax on aerated drinks is part of to fight growing sugar consumption

By Amit Srivastava*
A proposal to tax sugar sweetened beverages like tobacco in India has been welcomed by public health advocates. The proposal to increase sin taxes on aerated drinks is part of the recommendations made by India’s Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian on the upcoming Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill in the parliament of India.
Taxation to reduce consumption of tobacco has been successful when used alongside measures such as public education and restrictions on advertising and marketing to children, and stronger labeling laws.
“All of the evidence we have to date suggests that taxing sugary drinks would be far more powerful and effective for protecting public health than simple education measures. Such taxes also generate funds to further support public health and combat the rising rates of chronic diseases in India,” said Dr Sanjay Basu, assistant professor of Medicine at Stanford University, about the proposed tax.
Countries with high consumption of highly processed foods – high in fats, sugar and salt, or junk food – have seen skyrocketing obesity rates, and associated illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.
The consumption of added sugars in India is still relatively low compared to countries such as the US, UK and Mexico. In the US, where 69% of adults are overweight or obese, 36% of the added sugars consumed come from liquid drinks such as carbonated beverages, juices and energy drinks. As a result, the US is witnessing a strong growing movement to regulate sugar sweetened beverages.
“The proposal to tax sugar sweetened beverages similar to tobacco is a positive and proactive step. Increased sugar intake has been proven to be a bane for public health in countries where it is widely consumed. In addition, the government of India must also regulate marketing and promotion of such products especially targeting children,” said Dr Arun Gupta, a senior pediatrician and regional coordinator of International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia.
Public health advocates are also proposing that the sin tax be applied to the whole range of sugar sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, fruit juices and energy drinks. Added sugars in juices are often similar to those found in soft drinks.
Just one can of a 12 ounce (355 ml) Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar, and the World Health Organization (WHO) hasrecommended consuming added sugars no more than 10% of the daily calorie intake, or roughly 12 teaspoons (50 grams) of added sugar per day.
For optimal health benefits, the WHO recommends 6 teaspoons of added sugar (25 grams) per day.
“As the WHO, the UK Ministry of Health, Public Health Foundation of India and the US dietary guidelines have all noted, added sugar in beverages and food is a major cause of increased weight gain, waist circumference and risk of diabetes,” noted distinguished Professor of Nutrition and a PhD economist, Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
 “In Mexico, in an article forthcoming in the British Medical Journal, we have shown that tax on sugary beverages reduces added sugar intake significantly commensurate with the tax level. An unpublished study shows that the junk food tax on foods high in sugar is equally effective in Mexico", he said.
"India, with the world’s highest number of diabetics, needs to find ways to cut sugar intake as it is a major cause of diabetes in India. India’s sugar consumption is rapidly increasing and this tax is critical to slow down this very rapid growth of diabetes”, he added.
Leading British cardiologist and founding member of campaign group Action on Sugar Dr Aseem Malhotra said, “A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates is driving a massive increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes amongst the Indian population. Two out of three persons with type 2 diabetes die from cardiovascular disease, and more than half of these deaths occur prematurely." 
He added, "Unless urgent preventative action is taken deaths and disability from cardiovascular disease is estimated to cost $2.2 trillion dollars to the Indian economy by 2030. Sugary drinks are linked to tens of thousands of deaths worldwide and any government measure to reduce population consumption such as a tax must be welcomed with open arms.”
“The proposed tax would undoubtedly impact population health. Many Indians have disproportionately high rates of type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. There is also some evidence that many Indians have genetic susceptibilities to develop fatty liver on diets excess in added sugars. This is a landmark proposal,” said Dr Laura Schmidt, Professor of Health Policy in the School of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.
The proposal to increase sin taxes on sugar sweetened beverages are not new to India, and are part of a rapidly growing global movement to curb the growing consumption of added, and often hidden, sugars in our food.
Last year, in June 2014, the Indian government increased the excise tax on aerated beverages containing added sugars by 5%, citing health considerations as the reason. Earlier this year, the Delhi High court ruled that junk food – high in fat, sugar and salt – must be restricted in schools and a 50 meter radius.
In 2014, Dr Sanjay Basu from Stanford University and colleagues released findings that a 20% tax on sugar sweetened beverages in India would “avert 11.2 million cases of overweight/obesity and 400,000 cases of type 2 diabetes between 2014 and 2023.”
In a study released last week, a leading public health scientist, Dr Barry Popkin and colleagues warn that that in the absence of intervention, the world’s diet will move towards the US model, where “74% of products in the US food supply contain caloric or low-calorie sweeteners, or both.”
“Undoubtedly, the industry will say that it is capable of regulating itself,” said Dr. Raj Patel, Research Professor at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “But recent research suggests that self-regulation stalls meaningful change. The conflict of interest between corporations and public health when it comes to sugar-sweetened beverages is vast." He added, "It is encouraging that India’s policy is tilting more towards public health – and I look forward to hearing how taxes are complemented with other vital policies, ranging from advertising restrictions to the public availability of drinking water, to move India away from a path that has caused so much disease and suffering here in the United States.”
Companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo try to mask the negative health impacts of their products through massive advertising and marketing efforts which misleads the public. Taxing these products is the right way forward, and restrictions should also be placed on celebrity endorsements of these unhealthy products, including Bollywood.
---
*With India Resource Centre. Website: www.IndiaResource.org

Comments

TRENDING

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative  One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

Youngest of 16 activists jailed for sedition, Mahesh Raut 'fought' mining on tribal land

By Surabhi Agarwal, Sandeep Pandey* A compassionate human being, always popular among his friends and colleagues because of his friendly nature and human sensitivity, 33-year-old Mahesh Raut, champion of the democratic rights of the marginalised Adivasi people of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, has been in prison for over two years now.

#StandWithStan: It's about Constitution, democracy and freedom of expression

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  It is more than three weeks now: On the night of October 8, 2020, the 83-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy was taken into custody by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) from his residence in Ranchi to an undisclosed destination. According to his colleagues, the NIA did not serve a warrant on Fr. Stan and that their behaviour was absolutely arrogant and rude.

Stan Swamy vs Arnab Goswami: Are activists fighting a losing battle? Whither justice?

By Fr Sunil Macwan SJ* It is time one raised pertinent questions over the courts denying bail to Fr Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and granting it to Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of the Republic TV, arrested under the charge of abetting suicide of Avay Naik, who ended his life in 2018. It is travesty of justice that a human rights activist is not only denied bail but is also made to wait for weeks to hear a response to his legitimate request for a straw to drink water, while Arnab Goswami walks free.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk “Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

Human development index: India performs worse than G-20 developing countries

By Rajiv Shah A new book, “Sustainable Development in India: A Comparison with the G-20”, authored by Dr Keshab Chandra Mandal, has regretted that though India’s GDP has doubled over the last one decade, its human development indicators are worse than not just developed countries of the Group of 20 countries but also developing countries who its members.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Namaz in Mathura temple: Haridwar, Ayodhya monks seek Faisal Khan's release

By Our Representative As many as 23 members of the Hindu Voices for Peace (HVP), including the founder president of the well-known Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram, Swami Shivananda Saraswati, and a one of its top monks, Brahmachari Aatmabodhanand, have expressed their “dismay” over the arrest of Khudai Khidmatdar chief Faisal Khan and three others on charges of “promoting enmity between religions” and “defiling a place of worship” after they offered namaz in Mathura’s Nand Baba temple premises on October 29.

Government of India 'refuses' to admit: 52% of bird species show declining trend

Finn's Weaver  By Our Representative The Government of India has been pushing out “misleading” data on the country’s drastic wildlife decline, says a well-researched report, pointing towards how top ministers are hiding data on biodiversity losses, even as obfuscating its own data. It quotes “State of India’s Birds Report 2020” to note that of the 261 out of 867 bird species for which long-term trends could be determined, 52% have declined since the year 2000, with 22% declining strongly.

Dalit, Adivasi protest in Jharkhand against 'illegal' transfer of land for development

By Rishit Neogi Displacement and eviction are not new terms. It is surprising that they are still continuing and have become a tool in the hands of state backed corporates to forcibly occupy lands in the name of development.