Friday, March 18, 2016

About the Sugar Tax

It's fair to say I'm not a fan of Jamie Oliver's Sugar Tax - I don't like the government trying to engineer society in this manner, especially in an area where personal responsibility should apply. That said, I'll concede that this is probably a tax that's come, and also that there is a fairly serious issue with obesity in the country that public health initiatives have simply failed to touch.

So, fair enough, I guess. Paying an extra 8 pence for a can of Irn Bru isn't going to kill me.

That said, I do have a fairly serious concern about the likely response to this, in that I foresee the soft drinks manufacturers reformulating their drinks to lower the sugar content... and doing so by replacing it with artificial sweeteners.

I'll admit that my reasons for this are entirely selfish: I was advised some time ago to avoid artificial sweeteners as they cause problems for my digestion, something I was more than happy to do since I don't like them anyway. (I suspect the GP who thus advised me would probably also advise skipping the soft drinks altogether, but that's not happening...)

Since I was given that advice, Coca Cola have actually done both a good and a bad thing (from my point of view) in their product lines.

The good thing was the introduction of Coca Cola Life (the green bottle) - a drink that claims to taste the same as regular Coca Cola, but which replaces most or all of the sugar with Stevia. Now, I have no idea whether it actually tastes the same, or whether it's at all pleasant or not, since I haven't tried it. It's just one more option for me to ignore, which is a good thing.

The bad thing was the reformulation of Sprite to replace the sugar with Stevia - the same process, but instead of being another option it was a replacement. The consequence of this move is that I can no longer drink Sprite. Not a good thing.

In fact, the list of soft drinks I can have is fairly limited: pretty much everything other than Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, and Irn Bru is on the barred list. Which is fine - four options is plenty. (I could even drop to three, losing either Coke or Pepsi, except that bars and restaurants never stock both. Meaning that 50% of such places would then be problematic.)

(The awkward thing there, of course, is that the stated purpose of the Sugar Tax is precisely to encourage manufacturers to reformulate to get rid of the sugar. I suspect George's real reason is actually just to get more money, but that's another matter.)

So, I'm not terribly happy about the Sugar Tax, but it's not too terrible and I'm willing to pay it. And if the manufacturers respond by introducing new options for low-sugar versions of their drinks, then that's fine too (good, even). But I really hope they don't do so while removing the four remaining soft drinks that I actually can have.

#17: "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge", by Ian Doescher

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