Sikkut: Sugar tax could be considered for sweetened drinks

Riina Sikkut.
Riina Sikkut. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A sugar tax could be considered for sweetened drinks but not all products that contain sugar, Minister of Health Riina Sikkut proposed. However, Estonia is not about to lay down a sugar tax in the near future as there is no such agreement in the coalition and it would require public debate.

An analysis commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and carried out by Andres Võrk and Margus Piirits recommends laying down a sugar tax in Estonia. The document, set to be released to the public on Monday, finds that a sugar tax on sweetened drinks would hike their price, reduce consumption and have a positive effect on health behavior.

Minister of Health Riina Sikkut (SDE) told ERR Wednesday morning that a sugar tax was mulled six or seven years ago, while it was concluded society was not ready for it yet.

"Somewhat surprisingly, the experts have now returned to the recommendation. Many countries have laid down a sugar tax, most often on sugary drinks. Fizzy drinks are no better for children than alcohol is for adults," the minister remarked.

But Sikkut said that the coalition has not discussed a sugar tax and it will not be laid down on top of other incoming taxes or tike hikes right now.

She said that the new tax would first require a public debate. "If I could decide our tax system, I would tax both adverse health behavior and property. But it is clear that the government will make no such decision in the next year. There are enough pending tax changes."

The minister also said that one of the reason the sugar tax idea was shelved six or seven years ago was lack of evidence in terms of whether it would be effective.

"Where it works and where it doesn't. By now, over 80 countries have introduced the tax. It is not a major source of revenue and rather works to affect young people as a price conscious target group to reduce the consumption of such drinks."

Sugar tax is just one component in the healthcare funding framework analysis to be made public Monday. Sikkut said that Estonian healthcare needs additional funding in the coming years as deficit is forecast at €167.3 million by 2025.

The minister added that as there is more information on every individual person's medical needs, medical care should be "better aimed" to help avoid lengthy treatment queues.

"On the other hand, we want people to have more healthy years. Prevention and raising awareness are very important for people to be active and eat healthy. But I also find it is not fair telling people who already are sick that they should have lived healthy," Sikkut remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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