Sugar taxes have continued to gain momentum in 2017, but the introduction of new legislation is
rarely straight-forward. We take a look at countries around the globe where sugar taxes have been
making headlines this year.
The concept of sugar taxes (usually specifically on sugar-sweetened beverages) attracts strong
feelings both for and against. Proponents see taxes as a way to tackle the growing obesity crisis
by curbing consumption, encouraging manufacturers to reformulate and create a revenue stream
for public health initiatives. Opponents, however, say there is little evidence that such measures
are effective, that they costs jobs in the industry and that they simply push sales into other
This year the UAE, Portugal and Sri Lanka have all introduced taxes on sugary beverages. Next
year the UK, Ireland and South Africa will do the same. Meanwhile, Santa Fe and Cook County
in the US have both rejected the idea.
Read on for a list of countries where sugar taxes have been introduced or are under discussion.
This is not intended as a comprehensive summary: rather, it seeks to put the spotlight on some
of the markets where debate has heated up this year.
2017 has been an eventful year on the regulatory front in the US, where sales of carbonated soft
drinks have been on a declining trajectory for some years, and soda taxes are in force in
Boulder, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, the Navajo Nation, and Philadelphia, and
will come into effect in Seattle in January 2018 (this CSPI chart spells out what’s covered in
However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for soda tax enthusiasts, with residents in Santa Fe
rejecting a soda tax in May, while five months later, government officials voted to repeal a soda
tax in Cook County Illinois, a major win for the drinks industry and a significant blow for health
advocacy groups. Proposals to establish a tiered system of tax incentives to promote healthier
alternatives to sugary drinks in Massachusetts remain stuck in committee, meanwhile.
In Michigan, meanwhile, the state legislature recently approved a bill to preemptively ban local
governments from levying excise taxes on food, while Pennsylvania state rep. Mark Mustio
is reportedly planning to introduce legislation that would invalidate Philadelphia’s sweetened
beverage tax, which went into effect in January and is being challenged in the state’s courts.
As to whether soda taxes are delivering, it depends who you ask. The big soda companies,
unsurprisingly, are not happy, with Coca-Cola North America president Sandy Douglas telling
delegates at a conference in Boston in September that the Philadelphia tax had been a
“complete disaster,” which had cost jobs and “materially reduced our business.” PepsiCo, in turn,
stopped selling 2-liter bottles and 12-packs in the city in March, with CEO Indra Nooyi telling
analysts in April that she opposed “regressive” taxes that “unfairly target one category or
industry” and claimed they were “more revenue generation-focused rather than health-focused.”
Critics of the taxes have also complained about the inconsistencies across different
jurisdictions, with some ordinances, such as those in Cook County IL and Philadelphia, PA,
taxing beverages with non-caloric sweeteners, including stevia, and others (eg. San Francisco
and Oakland) focusing purely on sugar sweetened beverages, for example.
In August, market research firm Catalina said sales of sugar-sweetened beverages dropped
significantly within Philadelphia’s city limits in the five months after the tax came into effect, but
rose by almost as much just outside city limits, figures seized upon by critics as proof that
consumers were just shopping elsewhere, rather than ditching their soda habits.
However, Washington DC-based health advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI) said evaluations of the tax in Berkeley, CA, and another from Mexico have
shown decreased consumption of sugary drinks and increased consumption of healthier
beverages, while providing much-needed revenues for other public health measures.
In Mexico, which introduced a 1 peso per liter soda tax in 2014, an analysis published in Health
Affairs in March 2017 found that the 5.5% drop in the first year after the tax was introduced was
followed by a 9.7% decline in the second year.
México, Colombia, Chile, The Caribbean
In Columbia, meanwhile, a proposal for a 20% tax on sugar sweetened beverages was killed on
the last day of 2016 after being dropped from a larger tax overhaul package (for full details, read
this New York Times article).
Chile imposed a tax on sugary beverages in September 2014 and reduced the tax for nonsugary
beverages, while Barbados and Dominica levied a 10% excise tax on sugar-sweetened
beverages in 2015.
UK & Ireland
The UK will go ahead with the introduction of a sugar tax in April 2018, after initially proposing
the tax in 2016. Ireland will introduce a similar tax at the same time.
In the UK, a two-tier soft drinks industry levy will tax added sugar drinks with a total sugar
content of 5g or more per 100ml.
The levy rate for drinks with more than 5g/100ml will be set at 18p per liter; and those with
8g/100ml or more will be set at 24p per liter.
In Ireland, drinks with 5g/100ml will be taxed at 20c per liter, and those with 8g/100ml and or
more will have a rate of 30c per liter.
The pending levy has been credited with encouraging manufacturers to reformulate to put more
drinks under the levy threshold. Britvic, the top supplier of still soft drinks and number two
supplier of carbonates in GB and Ireland, says that 72% of its portfolio will escape the sugar tax
in the UK and 69% will be exempt in Ireland.
Portugal introduced a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in February, a measure that is
expected to raise €80m in its first year for the national health system.
Soft drink prices have gone up by around 15 cents a bottle; or 30 cents for beverages with more
than 80g sugar per liter.
Portugal is now also considering a new tax on food with a high salt content: such as potato
chips, cereals and crackers.
France has had a soda tax since 2013, and this year the government has decided to increase
the tax rate further.
Beverages with added sugar have been taxed at €7.5 a hectolitre, but this will change to a
sliding scale tax. It will start at 1g sugar/100ml; rising to €20 a hectoliter for drinks with more than
France has also banned free refills of fizzy drinks in restaurants.
South Africa is due to implement a sugary drinks tax on April 1, 2018: leading to an estimated
11% increase in the price of a regular can of soft drink.
Proposals were initially announced in February 2016 in an effort to reduce obesity in the country
(South Africa is ranked the country with the most obesity in sub-Saharan Africa).
In February this year, the Northwest Territories government announced plans to introduce a soft
drinks tax in the 2018/2019 budget year.
A number of health organisations in Canada (including Diabetes Canada, The Childhood Obesity
Foundation, and Heart & Stroke) have made calls for a nationwide sugar tax, saying it would
save 13,000 lives over the next 25 years and contribute $11.5bn CAD ($8.6bn USD) in health
This month, Montreal City Council passed a motion calling on the federal government to impose
an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The council will also examine measures that will
remove sugary drinks from municipal buildings such as arenas and sports centers.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently dashed calls for a sugar tax, saying that
consumers already pay enough taxes at the supermarket and should not have to pay an extra
20% for sweetened drinks. He said the strategy should centre on education, awareness and an
His government faces pressure from a coalition of health and community groups calling for
urgent action to tackle growing obesity. These organisations have put forward an eight-point
plan: suggesting a 20% tax, restrictions on junk food advertising, a national obesity task force,
and mandatory health star ratings by mid-2019.
The Chair of the Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges had said the lack of a coordinated
national approach to the obesity epidemic is unacceptable, and a soft drinks tax could fund more
clinical trials to assess solutions and boost public health.
Instead of a sugar tax, Hong Kong has chosen to look into introducing a new food and beverage
labelling system, while ramping up healthy food promotion in schools and introducing a pilot
scheme to display calorie content in canteens.
Despite calls from some parties for greater measures to deal with the sugar and diabetes issue,
including the idea of a tax, the territory’s administration is taking a pro-business approach, with
the Secretary for Food and Health advocating persuading beverage companies to reduce sugar
content through dialogue.
Currently, about one in five people in Hong Kong are reportedly overweight.
In July, it was reported that hundreds of Indian beverage manufacturers were preparing to start
adding fruit juice to their carbonated beverages in a bid to circumvent the newly-implemented
By doing so, these manufacturers believe that their products will be taxed 12% for beverages
based on fruit pulp or juice, instead of the heavy 40% for sweetened aerated beverages that
applies to drinks such as Coke, Pepsi and Sprite.
In May, the Malaysian government said it would not increase the market price of sugar in lieu of
a possible sugar tax on drinks, as requested by one of the country’s most prominent companies.
MSM Malaysia holdings called on the trade, cooperatives and consumerism minister to raise the
price by RM$0.29 (US$0.07) per kilogramme.
Consumer groups in Selangor and Penang have voiced that a price hike could be used as a
sugar tax, in the absence of an actual one. They see it as a means to promote safer or reduced
consumption of sugary food, while having marginal effect on manufacturers. The minister,
Hamzah Zainuddin, had announced that the price would remain the same, especially since the
global commodity price of sugar had fallen since Malaysia had increased the domestic price by
RM$0.11 in March.
About two-thirds of New Zealanders support a tax on sugary drinks, a survey by Auckland
University found. About 67% said they either strongly or somewhat agreed with such a tax. The
data reflected almost identical results by an earlier poll by Colmar Brunton more than a year
The government said that it has not been actively considering tax but will continue to keep watch
on the evidence and practice. Previous Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said that there had
been no evidence so far that a sugar tax would have an impact on obesity rates.
However, the new Labour-led government appears to disagree and is believed to be planning to
introduce its own sugar