Is sugar the new Tobacco?

There is clear evidence that excess sugar consumption is linked to obesity and obesity is linked to many diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and so on.

Based on the clinical evidence, the magnitude of the trouble this country faces is tremendous. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 2011/12, ‘almost 2 in 3 adults and 1 in 4 of children are overweight or obese’ (

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The good news is other governments have realised the real impact of excessive sugar consumption to society and therefore they are “intervening”.

By now you would’ve heard that drinking sugary soft-drinks in the UK is about to be more expensive. UK has just introduced a new sugar levy on the soft-drinks industry.

This bold move has been celebrated by many health experts. The opponents argue that this kind of government intervention is not effective. They believe this is just another revenue raising initiative and will backfire on the nation employment rates.

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Let’s take a look at Australian government intervention impacting the consumption of products such as alcohol and tobacco.


A lot of us enjoy alcohol when socialising, though many have been exposed to the impact of alcohol in our daily life, from drink-driving to alcohol related illness and violence. To counter these, government imposes strict rules around liquor licensing, responsible service of alcohol and collected taxes worth around $6 billion dollars.

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The Alcopops tax introduced in 2008 was aimed to curb excessive drinking among the youths, who were claimed to be the main consumers of the product category.


ABS data shows that consumption of RTDs (premixes cans and bottles) has been declining and as it turns out the consumption of spirits and wine categories beverages went up, most notably shortly after its introduction from 2009 – 2011. Clearly this is a successful effort to curb Alcopops consumption. But has it successfully achieved its intended purpose? Perhaps, not so much.

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On top of collecting a mountain of taxes on tobacco, government, along with various health organisations have implemented significant measures, often unpopular, such as: smoke free outdoor areas, plain packaging, health warnings on cigarettes and retail display restrictions.

The result is evident. According to graph below the percentage of population who smokes over the last twenty-five years has dropped from around 24% to just above 12%.

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 So will sugar tax affect your consumption on sugary drinks?

The real impact on this newly introduced legislation in the UK is yet to be known, but the question is, should we follow? According to submission to Tax Whitepaper by multiple research and health organisations in South Australia, ‘imposing a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce consumption by 24%’ (

So will sugar tax alone is effective to reduce consumption of this new enemy? will beverage manufacturers start to substitute sugar with other manmade sweeteners that have worse impact than sugar. Guess what? They already have!

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So why do we discriminate against beverage producers? What about fast-food retailers and other sugar-sweetened processed foods? Alcohol beverages are often high in sugar content too.

From recent new products that have hit our supermarket shelves, it is evident that large corporations are ahead of the game. They have created healthier options and market them with smart advertising, packaging and colour to re-create a healthier image of their brands.

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After taking a closer look into government interventions on alcohol and tobacco consumption, there is no denying that taxation has an impact on our consumption. But how effective is it to achieve its intended purpose? I think everyone would agree that there is no silver bullet to solve this problem. However, targeted taxation along with implementation of educational and social measures will certainly pay dividends in the long-term.

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References: (2016). Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2013-14. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016]. (2016). Overweight and obesity (AIHW). [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016]. (2016). » Sugar tax: how will it affect behaviour? | The Behavioural Insights Team. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016]. (2016). Department of Health | Tobacco key facts and figures. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016]. (2016). Tax White Paper Submission. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Mar. 2016].

Mitchell, S. (2016). Coca-Cola seeks new life for Coke Life. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016].

NewsComAu. (2016). ‘Alcopop’ tax fails to deter teen binge drinking, raises $4.5 billion in revenue. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016]. (2016). Obesity. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2016].

2 thoughts on “Is sugar the new Tobacco?

  1. I will be really interested to see the impact of the sugar tax in the UK. I think you are right, certainly it will impact policy direction here. Certainly the success of the plain packaging legislation for tobacco has now been copied overseas. The taxes is an interesting one, taxing sugary soft drinks will be regressive in nature so hits lower impact people the hardest. Also I’m not convinced the Ready to drink tax actually had the desired impact – I was working in the alcohol sector at the time and the consensus then was that people were instead buying spirits straight up and mixing at home!


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