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Minister: Faced with new tax, producers will lower drinks' sugar content

If implemented, the tax could temporarily increase the price of sugary drinks by 35-50 percent.
If implemented, the tax could temporarily increase the price of sugary drinks by 35-50 percent. Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) believes that even global brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi will lower the amount of sugar in their beverages in light of the planned Estonian sugar tax.

The government approved a concept on Wednesday that aims to motivate producers to lower the amount of sugar in non-alcoholic beverages by means of a new tax. At the government’s Thursday press conference, Ossinovski said the new tax needed to differ between high and low sugar content in order to give producers the opportunity to reformulate their products.

“Our aim isn’t to make today’s products more expensive, but to get producers to lower the sugar content in their products. The experience of other countries shows that this is how it works,” Ossinovski said.

Based on data from other countries, the Ministry of Finance has explained that typically, the sugar content in about half of the available products is lowered immediately after the introduction of such a tax, if for the sole reason to avoid having to pay more. This effect, according to Ossinovski, allows the government to kill two birds with one stone—public health benefits, and the affected products don’t become more expensive.

The minister pointed out that an important point of the concept was that the majority of drinks would remain outside sugar contents eventually taxed. In the case of the proposed tax, any product that contains 5 g or less would remain exempt, while any product that contained more sugar would be subject to it.

“Though it feels funny to ask if Coca-Cola will really lower the sugar content, the prediction is that yes, they will,” Ossinovski said. He also pointed out that these levels already varied greatly from country to country.

The proposals of producers to introduce the tax level by level was welcome, Ossinovski said. That way, they had time to adapt.

“If we assume that Coca-Cola would have to halve its sugar content next year, this drink likely wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people anymore, and they wouldn’t buy it. But the experience of other countries shows that if the sugar level is lowered bit by bit, then people don’t even pay attention to it anymore,” Ossinovski said.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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