Thursday, 9 March 2023
Department of Health
Marc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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329. To ask the Minister for Health if he intends to expand sugar related taxes to include other goods including a wide range of high sugar quantity confectionary sweets, snacks and other consumable products to help tackle the national obesity pandemic. [12060/23]
Hildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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A Healthy Weight for Ireland, the Obesity Policy and Action Plan (OPAP), was launched in September 2016 under the auspices of the Healthy Ireland Framework (Healthy Ireland: A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013-2025). It was developed in recognition of the growing need for a co-ordinated policy response to the increasing problem of obesity in Ireland and the increasing burden placed on individuals and society.
OPAP covers a 10-year period up to 2025 and aims to reverse obesity trends, prevent health complications, and reduce the overall burden for individuals, families, the health system, and the wider society and economy. It recognises that obesity is a complex, multifaceted problem and needs a multi-pronged solution, with every sector of society playing its part. Childhood obesity is a key priority under OPAP, as is reducing the inequalities seen in obesity rates, where children (and adults) from lower socioeconomic groups have higher levels of obesity. OPAP is well aligned with the World Health Organisation in terms of the breadth of policy measures that have been introduced or are being considered in order to address the obesity epidemic.
With regard to fiscal measures as a policy option to address obesity, in its “Foundations for the Future” report published in 2022, the Commission on Taxation and Welfare recognised that the taxation system is “one of a number of policy tools that can be used to support better public health” and made recommendations that the Government develop fiscal measures to encourage a reduction in the consumption of ultra-processed foods, support reformulation measures to reduce the harm of such foods and promote healthier eating.
Under OPAP, commitment was given to “develop proposals for a levy on sugar-sweetened drinks”, “develop proposals on the rollout of evidence-based fiscal measures to support healthy eating and lifestyles” and “review the evidence...for fiscal measures on products that are high in fat, sugar and salt.”
Following a proposal developed by this Department in consultation with stakeholders, the Department of Finance introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax (SSDT) in 2018. The SSDT has now been in operation for more than four years. Initial indications are that the tax has had a positive impact, particularly in terms of encouraging drinks producers to reduce the sugar content in their products. A more comprehensive analysis of the effects of the tax is needed in order to inform any further fiscal policy considerations, and the Department has commenced an evaluation of the measure.
A literature review was carried out by the Department to make an assessment of the potential approaches to evaluate the impact of the tax. The Department has also developed links with researchers who are working on projects relevant to the evaluation topic, which has impacted upon the nature and timeline of the work. Further work on the analysis of the impact of the measure is expected to be carried out in the coming months.
The outcome of this analysis will assist the Department of Health in terms of examining and considering any possible further measures, in consultation with the Department of Finance. While the implementation of the Sugar Sweetened Drinks Tax is enacted through the Finance Act, and therefore within the remit of the Department of Finance, any policy decisions around reforming or expanding the tax would be subject to engagement between this Department and the Department of Finance. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the Department of Finance may also need to consider State Aid consultation with the European Commission in relation to any policy decisions around reform or expansion of the tax.