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Impose "sin tax" on sugar-sweetened beverages in India: UK, US, Indian, Mexican medical experts to MPs

Counterview Desk
Sixty-odd medical experts from the US, UK, India, Brazil and Mexico have released a statement in support of a sin tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in India. The statement, which has been mailed to key Members of Parliament (MPs) and ministries in India this week, notes that a changing Indian diet is leading to an alarming increase in rates of obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases in India.
The statement warns, “Current research suggests that India may reverse decades of public health gains if these trends continue, further burdening an already overstressed and increasingly expensive health care system.”
It notes, “While processed foods in general are a source of concern, an increasing body of new public health research shows that one set of products ­sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)­ pose a unique risk of increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
In case the “sin tax” is imposed, according to the statement, “India would follow the successful taxation strategies in Mexico and parts of the United States, which have significantly lowered SSB consumption. Mexico introduced a soda tax in January 2014 and saw a 12% drop in SSB sales by December 2014.”
The statement recalls, “A 2014 Stanford University study concluded that a 20 per cent tax on SSBs in India would avert 11.2 million cases of overweight/obesity and 400,000 cases of type-2 diabetes between 2014 and 2023.”
It adds, “The tax would also substantially increase revenue available to the government to support other public health measures. With over 60 million people with type 2 diabetes, the Indian government has a duty to its citizens to address a crisis that causes such misery, and that threatens to break an already over-burdened public health system.” 
Arvind Subramanian
“Diseases caused by SSBs—such as diabetes—are chronic, irreversible conditions that will levy a heavy burden on health care spending for many decades to come and will particularly impact low-income Indians disproportionately”, it points out.
“India cannot afford to ignore the changing diet landscape that will exact a high toll if current trends in the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages continue. Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages in ways similar to tobacco is a positive step forward to protect the public health interests of all Indians”, the statement says.
“Recognizing the unique perils of such products”, the statement says, “India’s Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian has proposed taxing sugar-sweetened beverages in ways similar to tobacco in the upcoming Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill.”
“This follows the advice and recommendations of numerous independent international scientific and public health bodies, including a strong public statement favoring SSB-taxation by the World Health Organization in January 2016”, it adds.
Many of the statement supporters have led initiatives to tax sugar sweetened beverages, including recent successful efforts in Mexico, South Africa, UK and Berkeley, as well as ongoing efforts in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and Philadelphia in the US, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
“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,” says Dr Sanjay Basu, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and one of the originators of the statement.
Other signatories include Dr Arun Gupta, Senior Pediatrician and Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia, New Delhi; Dr Aseem Malhotra, Cardiologist Adviser to the UK's National Obesity Forum and Founding Member of Action on Sugar, UK; and Dr Barry Popkin, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition and PhD economist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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