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Industry rejects soft drinks tax call

News, 07 September 2015

LONDON: Soft drinks brands are preparing to fight on a new health front after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign for the introduction of a "sugary drinks tax" to combat rising levels of obesity and diet-related disease in the UK.

In a TV documentary – Jamie's Sugar Rush – Oliver highlighted the effects of sugar on children's health, with 26,000 primary school-age kids going to hospital every year because of rotten teeth and one in three leaving school overweight or obese.

Sugar has also been implicated in the rise of Type 2 diabetes, and here Oliver looked at the experience of Mexico where the disease is now the leading cause of death. He visited one village where, it was claimed, people typically drank two litres of Coca-Cola every day.

In his "sugar manifesto", Oliver demands a 20 pence levy per litre on every soft drink containing added sugar, or about 7 pence per 330ml can, resurrecting a request first made two years ago by leading medical bodies. He also calls for sugar content to be shown in the form of the number of teaspoons contained within a product.

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, rejected the idea of a regressive tax on top of that already levied in the form of VAT. "This complex challenge needs a complex solution, one which involves and empowers people, not taxes them", he said.

The morning after the documentary was shown, Coca-Cola was running ads in newspapers and on Twitter stressing the reduction in sugar levels in its products and the no- or low-calorie options also available.

A spokesperson told The Drum that the ads were "a continuation of marketing activity we've been running all year".

While the sugary drinks tax grabbed the headlines, Oliver's manifesto also sets its sights on the advertising code and calls for a ban on all junk food marketing on television before 9pm and for more robust digital marketing regulations to cover such areas as advergaming and competitions.

A petition started by Oliver is likely to gain 100,000 or more signatures, thus forcing Parliament to debate the issue.

Data sourced from The Drum, The Grocer, Channel 4, BBC; additional content by Warc staff