From May 1, anyone who goes into a supermarket in Catalonia and decides to buy a milkshake, juice, sports drink or sugary soft drink will see their out-of-pocket cost increase by up to 50% on many of these products. The reason for this is that the Catalan government has given the green light to a new tax on these beverages, through a decree law which specifies that manufacturing and distribution companies are obliged to pass this fee on to consumers, adding a charge which, in some cases, may double the final price.
This tax rate will specifically apply to categories of bottled sugary beverages such as soft drinks or sodas, fruit nectar and fruit juices, sports drinks, tea and coffee, energy drinks, sweetened milks, alternative milk drinks, milkshakes and milk drinks containing fruit juice, vegetable juices and flavored water.
The tax breaks down as follows:
€0.078 per liter for drinks containing between 5 and 8 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters and €0.12 per liter in drinks containing over 8 grams per 100 milliliters.
Outside of Spain, France and the United Kingdom already have their own taxes on sugary drinks. London has given companies two years to adapt to the new framework, while the Catalan Government has barely given them one month.
This new tax obliges companies to pass this increase in the cost of sugary drinks directly on to consumers, with the aim, according to the Administration itself, of dissuading consumers and encouraging them to drink less of these, in order to prevent problems associated with obesity and diabetes. But will this lead to lower consumption? What about responsible consumers who commit to less frequent consumption? Is it merely a way of generating tax revenue? Are sugary drinks the cause of the increase in obesity rates among the population?
Some address the situation by asking another question. Can a ham sandwich be the cause of obesity problems? Well, if you were to breakfast, snack, lunch and dine on a ham sandwich then it surely would be. So, therefore, why not apply an anti-obesity tax on bread and ham? Basically, because we all agree that the underlying problem is not the products, but rather a lack of training, education and a balanced diet.
Anyone who goes into a supermarket has the option to choose their diet and that of their family. If someone decides to fill their weekly shopping basket with one-kilogram bags of sugar, butter and chocolates alone, they will have a serious health problem, which cannot exactly be blamed on the products they have purchased.
It has also been observed in studies other than those cited by the defenders of the tax that the problem of obesity is greater in families with a lower purchasing power and educational level, hence it will be these that will suffer most from a rise in taxes.
Therefore, demonizing food and drink for having a specific composition does not appear to be a good solution in the long term. Why not focus the debate on education and healthy habits?
This tax is only currently being applied in Catalonia, although the central government has already announced a similar measure at the state level which, for the time being, is stuck in neutral.