Denmark tried Osborne’s sugar tax. Here’s what happened

Also in our Barometer column: ageing populations; stay-at-home towns; growing mountains

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

Bottling out

Does any country have experience of a sugary drinks tax?
— Denmark introduced a tax on sweetened soft drinks in the 1930s which by 2013 was being levied at a rate of €0.22 a litre and brought in €60m a year.
— However, the Danish government also estimated that it was losing €38.9m in VAT from illegal soft drink sales.
— In 2011, the government also introduced a fat tax, levied at 16 Kroner (£1.78) on food items with more than 2.3% saturated fat, and planned a more general sugar tax.
— However, the fat tax was abandoned after 15 months when surveys suggested only 7% of Danes had reduced their fat intake. The tax was, however, blamed for 1,300 lost jobs as Danish shoppers crossed to Germany or Sweden. The proposed sugar tax was abandoned and the soft drinks tax abolished, too.

Old wives’ tale

Individuals are living longer, but does that make us an ageing population?

Age in 2011 Population group
0-20 15.5m
21-24 6.7m
30-44 13.3m
45-59 11.4m
60-74 7.8m
75-89 5.9m
90+ 0.4m

Source: ONS

Age in 2011 Population 2001
0-20 16m
21-24 7.7m
30-44 12.9m
45-59 12.4m
60-74 9.3m
75-89 4.4m
90+ 0.5m

Source: ONS

Places to stay

Where in Britain has fewest passports?

% of population without passport
Blaenau Gwent 1 in 2,320
Great Yarmouth/Anglesey 1 in 101,000
East Lindsey 1 in 116,000
Gwynedd 1 in 200,000
North Norfolk, Bolsover, Moyle 1 in 320,000

Source: ONS

Ain’t no mountain high enough

Ben Nevis was re-measured and found to be 1,345 metres (1m higher than had been thought). Other mountains that grew:
— Mount Everest was measured at 8,840m in 1856, but 8,848m in 1955.
— Before 2002, Mont Blanc was measured at 4,807m. It was put at 4,808.75m last year. The change isn’t just down to accuracy of measurement: the summit is an ice cap, and so its height varies.
And two that shrank:
— Kilimanjaro was measured at 5,895m in 1952, but only 5,888m in 2014.
Snowdon was measured at 1,130m in 1682, shrinking to the current height given in the Ordnance Survey of 1,085m.

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  • mikewaller

    The flaw in the Denmark parallel is that the UK, unlike Denmark, does not have a land border and swimming the Channel for a can of Coke or loading you boot with crates of it, seems a bit unlikely.

    Incidentally, as a brilliant TV series called “The men who made us fat” made clear, when the European Parliament was minded to do something similar, each MEP received a letter from BIG Food & Drink announcing that if the measure went ahead each BF&D employee in every country would be told that their MEP had destroyed their job. The MEPs then backed off. As I believe that BF&D has done far more harm to the fighting capabilities of Western nations that our seemingly worst enemies could possibly have achieved, I earnestly hope that this government will at last show the courage in this area that all its predecessors have disgracefully failed to demonstrate.

    • MickC

      The thought of Customs officers searching cars and lorries in pursuit of non taxed soft drinks, but allowing through alcohol is worthy of a Monty Python sketch….

      • George

        This of course has long been the case with regard to cannabis, and used to be the case with regard to “dirty books” like Ullysses.

      • bab_el_mandeb

        In much the same way as police in a northern city were concentrating on burglary and car crime, while 1400 mainly white girls were being sexually abused by groups of men of a certain ethnic persuasion.

    • oldoddjobs

      Daddy state will stop us bold boys and girls from eating sweets

      • mikewaller

        What responsible government – and there are precious few of those – would tolerate the transformation of it people into a race of puddings incapable of fighting their way out of a paper bag? The evolutionary reason for our greed is obvious. High energy foodstuffs such as honey constituted occasional opportunities that needed to be exploited to the full. In the modern age self-serving creeps have capitalised on this to their own financial gain at massive detriment to society. It is very much to be hoped that before too long they are the subject of endless civil litigation, the evidence of their malfeasance being incontrovertible. Those who would defend their right to behave in this way are, to my mind, either purblind fools or in some way complicit. So take your pick.

        • oldoddjobs

          Governments do not own people. We are not pets or children of politicians. We are responsible for our own lives, and blaming the state or companies is evidence of a servile mind.

          I defend the right of people to sell coca cola, with as much sugar as they like. Shocking, isn’t it?

          • mikewaller

            I put you in the same bracket as the Oxford clowns who in 1933 passed the resolution that “This House will not in any circumstances fight for King and Country”. Of course, most of them eventually matured and did exactly that. What hope there is for you, God knows.

          • oldoddjobs

            That’s funny, I was originally going to remark that your comment makes sense if applied to an army.

            “What responsible army – and there are precious few of those –
            would tolerate the transformation of its soldiers into a race of puddings
            incapable of fighting their way out of a paper bag?”

            The trouble is, the country is not an army. Can’t quite see how you missed such an obvious fact, but there it is. What hope there is for you, God knows.

          • john s

            Well I put you in the same category as the Isis fanatics who bomb innocents because their leaders tell them to.

          • mikewaller

            Which just shows how incredibly stupid you are.

          • john s

            Wow, good comeback. Yoy type a lot but say nothing. You asked for the silly comparison with your own.

          • mikewaller

            What places you so squarely into the realms of sad-sackary, is you failure to back off from such arrant tripe.

          • NormanWells

            True. Freedom should include the right to make decisions that the politicians believe to be mistakes. Even if 99% of the population does.

        • john s

          It isn’t the states business to control the choices of its citizens. Those who think otherwise are generally not going to be affected by the measures under consideration. We do like to regulate other people don’t we?

          • mikewaller

            If you have the intellectual capacity, might I ask you to respond to the questions I put to “George” below”? Incidentally, although it might reduce your personal capacity to purchase sugary drinks, there is nothing particularly novel about what is being proposed. The same mixed motives informed taxes on both alcohol and tobacco; and as governments very clearly need the money, is it not a lot better that childish indulgences be taxed than yet more taken out of the fruits of honest toil?

          • john s

            So you love your government and trust it so much that you are ok with it deciding what is a childish indulgence and what is not? Sin taxes legitimize the labeling of some indulgences as fair game for further government control. Tobacco comes easily to mind. You are the mentally challenged one if you think that government will stop at minor sin taxes.
            As for your moving example for george, I think there ought to be an extension of God wins law to include references to world war two in general. Why not get something more recent, an example of where increased government regulation was opposed but then embraced when folks found out how wrong they were? Try hard, because cases where generations of people were brainwashed into submission don’t count.
            Oh and you might want to lighten up on the scorn. Your arguments don’t really show any justification for such a superior attitude.

          • mikewaller

            I really don’t think that the author of a remark as silly as: ” Well I put you in the same category as the Isis fanatics who bomb innocents because their leaders tell them to.” is in a position to lecture anybody on anything.

            As for “trusting” the Government, of course I don’t. What I trust is my own judgement, particularly when set against the naive libertarian fantasies of others. On this basis, I believe that alcohol, tobacco and sugar are ideal targets for taxation which, inter alia, discourages over-indulgence. On the same principle, I would actively discourage the application of taxation to the staples of life or newspapers. That said, in respect of the latter, I can only bring myself to include scum-bag effusions such as the The Sun and The Mail with the utmost self-discipline.

          • mikewaller

            “People who eat “one too many” Easter eggs have been urged to stay away from A&E by NHS bosses in Middlesbrough.” Another glorious display of human freedom!

    • Grandito

      Some people want to be able to choose drinks with sugar in them rather than drinks with Aspartame and other sweeteners. Some research has shown that calorie intake increases when meals are consumed along with drinks that contain sweeteners as the body “anticipates” a surge of energy from the sugar which doesn’t arrive and then overcompensates. I saw an interesting experiment where a group of people were sat at a meal and half were randomly given drinks with sweeteners and half given drinks with actual sugar. The group that had the drinks with sweeteners consumed more calories in total than those that had the drinks with sugar.

      Since food and drink full of sweeteners and “low fat” foods started to dominate the supermarket shelves the weight of the population seems to have ballooned. Causation or correlation?

      • Enoch Powell

        Obesity is actually a symptom of diabetes, not a cause. You have no idea whether obese people are buying the diet/sweetened/low fat stuff or not.

        • covert

          There is absolutely no need to buy the Diabetic high priced goods, there are enough good low/no sugar products available, its just a matter of changing your lifestyle and checking sugar levels more., a good book to read to help is The eight week blood sugar diet, I found it very good for keeping blood sugar in check.

      • mikewaller

        Surely you cannot be unaware of the huge con “low fat” was. Corrupt academics, largely America, look sugar out of the dock and replaced it with natural fats. Then the business men who were funding them, took most of the fat out of yoghurts or whatever and replaced it with sugar. If you can obtain a copy, I cannot recommend “The men who made us fat” highly enough.

    • HJ777

      Let us suppose for one minute that rising obesity is solely due to sugar consumption and that government should do something about it.

      Then why just tax soft drinks containing sugar? What about all the confectionery, cakes, biscuits and other foods that contain (often large amounts of) added sugar?

      • mikewaller

        I should have thought it obvious from everything I’ve said, I’d tax the bloody lot!

        • HJ777

          But that is not what the government is doing.

          However, in effect, we already do have a sugar tax within the EU. There are high (around 30%) tariff barriers on imported sugar specifically to protect the European sugar beet industry from sugar produced more cheaply elsewhere from sugar cane. So EU policy already makes sugar around 30% more expensive than it would otherwise be.

          • mikewaller

            But given the state of kids’teeth and British waistlines, it is clearly not high enough. As for protective tariffs, do read the brilliant piece on page 14 of this week’s Specky. The little guy is sick to death of doctrinaire free-traders whose policies would inevitably drive the ordinary Joe’s income down to the levels obtaining in third world, low cost economies. Let’s get real.

    • ChuckieStane

      Mike, the UK does have a land border.
      Cross-border shopping and filling up of cars has been an everyday occurrence for years, the direction of trade varies depending on the prevailing economic regimes.

      • mikewaller

        Thanks for putting me straight. I had always read the term the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ (UK) to mean that NI had a separate status outside the UK. Simulated by you, checking proved that in this – and no doubt in much else! – I was wrong i.e. Northern Ireland is included with the Kingdom that is united. Ergo, we do have a land border. However, that not withstanding, for the very great majority of us, nipping across the border for a case of sugar is a much trickier proposition than in continental Europe.

        • cerius lee

          not sure there’ll be any extra tax on a case of sugar…so just caramelise it and add it to your soda water…;)

          • mikewaller

            That was, literally, a case of the hope exceeding the facts! [:-)]

        • disruptivethoughts

          The real difference is that Denmark is small when compared to the UK, and a third of the population lives in the Copenhagen region anyway, so the borders are closer to everybody. It’s a matter of time spent in transit, in which the existence of a land border or fixed link is only one factor. Danes also have much less trouble with languages than we British.

    • #toryscum

      As those who wish to remain keep reminding us, the UK border is in France. Does this mean we, technically, have a land border with the french also?

      • mikewaller

        I am not sure that that is in anyway material to the possibility of your quickly nipping across it to get a marginally cheaper can of Coke!

    • Kandanada

      The UK has a land border with Ireland.

  • George

    That Danish fat tax was quite mad to begin with. For some time evidence has accumulated that saturated fat from dairy products is protective against diabetes, overweight, and cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke). The populations where this correlation is most striking are the Scandinavian and other Northern European populations, who have access to good quality butter, cream, and cheese.
    So why would one of these countries try to reduce the consumption of these foods? It’s a long and sorry tale, well told recently in The Big Fat Surprise.
    The unfortunate thing is that the Danish sugar tax was a collateral victim of the fat tax folly. It was more a victim of the deserved scorn heaped on that tax, a reaction which the food industry found easy to exploit, than a victim of its own flaws.

  • Ed  

    Don’t be eughropean. Give all those measurements in feet.

  • Planet Vague

    This syrupy piece ‘explains’ nothing.
    Why not.

  • cerius lee

    if sugar is so bad, why not just legislate for how much can be put in a drink? Oh it’s to help kids…raise the age of drinking coke to 18 like alcohol. Of course you can get your sugar fix from anywhere so perhaps a sugar Ration would be fairer and actually save us all from our selves(create a black market where the healthy poor can make money from greedy rich)…;)…truth is it’s just a money making exercise unfairly weighted against the poor…in the meantime buy shares in Soda stream…