The federal government is at risk of being the “odd one out” internationally if it resists implementing a tax on sugary soft drinks, the Australian Medical Association says, reigniting its calls for a 16 cent levy for every can in an attempt to slash obesity cases and raise funds for public health campaigns.
The AMA said Australia could collect $814m annually by implementing a sugar tax on fizzy drinks, a move it says 85 jurisdictions around the world have already taken.
“The reason we keep bringing it up is it’s still a problem. Australians are consuming too much sugar-sweetened beverages,” said AMA’s vice-president, Dr Danielle McMullen.
The peak doctor’s lobby on Friday renewed its calls for the federal government to implement a tax of 40 cents for every 100 grams of sugar added to soft drinks. The AMA said the reasons for the tax, which would come to 16 cents for a regular can of drink, would be twofold: to discourage consumption, reduce incidence of associated health conditions and to raise funds for public health campaigns and preventive measures.
“Over a 25-year period we estimate this would result in 16,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, 4,400 fewer cases of heart disease and 1,100 fewer cases of stroke,” McMullen said.
The AMA’s proposal would not apply tax to zero-sugar soft drinks sweetened with other products, or to fruit juice, cordial or milk-based drinks.
The AMA’s campaign, titled Sickly Sweet, points out the average 375ml soft drink contains up to 50 grams of sugar, more than double the daily recommended amount, and that Australians consume more than 2.4bn litres of sugary drinks annually.
“We need something to break the addiction and help people choose water instead,” McMullen said.
“People are drinking litres of product every day.”
McMullen noted the “challenges” of widespread advertising of sugar-sweetened drinks through the summer to families and children, but said that even just a 16 cent tax could have an impact on changing habits.
“International evidence shows that amount does affect purchasing decisions, and that companies reformulate their product’s content,” she said.
The AMA said around 85 jurisdictions around the world had implemented a form of sugar tax, including about 40 since the Sickly Sweet campaign launched last year. The campaign website points to countries where sugar taxes have been implemented at some level like the US, Mexico, the UK, Spain, France, South Africa, India and Morocco.
McMullen warned Australia was at risk of being left the “odd one out”.
“Australia is falling further behind the rest of the world in implementing a sugar tax … We need to keep the pressure on our government,” she said.
“It’s just baffling why Australia is unwilling to take advantage of this win-win situation, especially at a time when healthcare costs are under the spotlight. You’d think the government would take every opportunity to reduce the chronic disease burden on the health system and improve its bottom line at the same time.”
The AMA is currently pushing the federal government to rethink Medicare funding. Reinvigorating its calls for the sugar tax adds to its list of demands for the health minister, Mark Butler.
McMullen was reluctant to discuss any conversations that had been held with the Albanese government, but urged the commonwealth to seriously consider the proposal.
“Discussions around tax are always difficult but discussions around health shouldn’t be,” she said.
“We have a new government that is taking health seriously and understands the chronic disease burden facing Australia. We’re keeping up the fight.”