RSPH is disappointed at the announcement of plans by Boris Johnson to halt the sugar levy. 

If elected Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, Mr Johnson commits: 

  • To launch a comprehensive review into the effectiveness of the ‘sin taxes’ - including products high in salt, fat or sugar. 
  • To not increase any of the so-called ‘sin taxes’, or introduce similar taxes, until a review has been completed.

RSPH welcomed the implementation of the UK’s landmark Soft Drinks Industry Levy – commonly known as the ‘Sugar Tax’ – which came into force on 6 April 2018. The levy has already proven effective in its key goal of encouraging manufacturer reformulation, with the then Public Health Minister Steve Brine reporting at the time of its launch that nearly half of the soft drinks market has been proactive in reducing sugar in their products to avoid charges. This has been reflected in the revenue expected from the levy falling by almost half, from £500m a year when it was first announced to £275m at the end of 2017.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, RSPH, said: “We are seriously disappointed with the news that Boris Johnson has said he will review taxes on products high in salt, fat and sugar, with a view to halt the sugar levy. One of the successes of the last Conservative Government was the introduction of the sugar levy for soft drinks. The evidence shows that the sugar levy has worked. Nearly half of the soft drinks market has reduced the sugar in their products to avoid charges. There is overwhelming public support for reformulation, with 9 in 10 people surveyed by Public Health England supporting the government to work with the food industry to reformulate products to make them healthier. 

We have a childhood obesity epidemic in this country and this is greatest among those in deprived and low income households. Tackling this epidemic requires radical action if we are to make a difference. The statement from Mr Johnson that “if we want people to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, we should encourage people to … generally do more exercise” places the onus firmly on the individual; we know that you cannot outrun a bad diet, and that the food choices we make are largely responsible for this. Besides, the sugar levy itself has also raised around £340 million since its launch to support sport and physical activity in schools; who will meet this shortfall given that schools are already cash-strapped?

We should be building on the success of the sugar levy, not turning back the clock on the progress that has been made so far. The success of fiscal measures in supporting the public’s health has been demonstrated in other areas such as tobacco and alcohol taxation. 

This is a short sighted proposal – and we do hope that this decision hasn’t been influenced by sweet talking from the food industry. We would urge Boris Johnson to reconsider.”