3 April 2018

This Friday [6 April 2018] sees the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (Enforcement) Regulations 2018, otherwise known as the sugar tax, which has been hailed as one of the United Kingdom's most revolutionary health initiatives in recent years.

But its introduction has left a bitter taste in the mouths of oral health campaigners, who feel that it does not go far enough in addressing Britain's current dental health crisis which has been largely caused by sugar.

The government has guaranteed that every penny of the money raised will go towards improving children's health, including by ‘doubling the primary sports premium to improve the quality of PE in schools.

Yet campaigners are angry that no funds have been pledged towards improving education on oral health or on action to help reduce the impact of sugar on teeth.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of charity the Oral Health Foundation, said: "The sugar tax falls short when it comes to oral health and it does not do enough to address the crisis we have seen develop as a result of excessive sugar consumption in the UK over recent years.

"Tooth decay is the number one reason why children have a general anaesthetic in hospital in England. The Local Government Association (LGA) have recorded that there were nearly 43,000 hospital operations to remove unhealthy teeth in children in the last year alone. It is an utterly heart-breaking situation and something no child should go through.

"This is part of a wider children's dental health problem in England. More than one in ten (12%) three-year olds suffer from tooth decay and this increases to one in four (25%) as they reach five years' old.

"The government have somewhat ignored this when they developed the sugar tax and have failed millions of children by not recognising and reacting effectively enough to the risk posed to their oral health by sugary drinks."

The sugar tax on soft drinks will place a levy on manufactures of 18p per litre for fizzy drinks with total sugar content above 5g per 100 millilitres and 24p per litre drinks with more than 8g per 100 millilitres.

Since the levy was announced in Spring 2016, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has said that it will raise significantly less funds than originally forecasted because manufactures have been effective in reformulation to remove sugar from their products.

The Chancellor described this as "good news" for children and maintained the government's promise that the Education Department will still receive the £1bn originally earmarked from the levy.

In this statement, the government once again ignored the role sugar plays in creating one of the biggest health issues in the UK, in tooth decay. They have also failed to address the concerns raised by oral health campaigners following the levy's initial introduction.

"We welcome the move that some soft drinks companies have made in reformulating their products to reduce the amount of sugar that is in them, reducing sugar consumption will always have a positive effect on oral health and we wait to see what effect this move will have," Dr Carter added.

"Sadly, some companies have seen the sugar levy as an opportunity for double profiteering, with Coca-Cola not only passing on the cost of the sugar levy to consumers with price rises but also reducing the sizes of their drinks across their range.

"It is highly unlikely that price increases or pack size reductions will have any effect on sales, as demonstrated by recent changes seen in some chocolate and confectionery products. Unfortunately, in its current state we cannot see the sugar tax having any meaningful affect on oral health.

"We are also severely disappointed that there seems to be no sustained effort by government to build on the current sugar tax proposals which have turned a blind eye to addressing pure fruit juices, milk-based drinks and multi-packs; products which are also highly dangerous to our health.

"We want to see the sugar tax reviewed with a greater focus on oral health, it needs to cover more products and also must seriously consider putting some of the funds it generates into oral health preventive programmes in schools, which have been proved to be effective.

"We will continue to campaign to make sure oral health is no longer ignored as part of government policy and to ensure that the oral health of the nation is improved."