Vaud state councillor Pierre-Yves Maillard has proposed a new cantonal tax on soft drinks to fund dental care. The plan would combine the money raised by this tax with a new social security tax of up to 0.06% of salaries. The combined projected CHF 38 million collected, would fund 50% of dental care costs for young people up to the age of 18, with the exception of orthodontics. In addition, the parents of new-borns would receive CHF 200 towards dental insurance, and help would be offered to adults for dental costs exceeding 3% of their income, up to a maximum of CHF 5,000.
This new plan has been presented as an alternative to an earlier proposal to fund dental care purely from new social security taxes, known as AVS contributions, amounts deducted from salaries.
The head of communication for the Swiss association of mineral waters and soft drink producers, Christiane Zwahlen, told the news service ATS that she thinks the soft drink tax is “unfair”. “There is sugar in a number of foods. Why focus only on one product?”. In addition, she said there are no reliable studies which show that such a tax dissuades consumption of soft drinks.
The proposed tax would be set at a maximum of 30 cents per litre, around 10 cents for a can, a level that councillor Maillard considers “light”. Christiane Zwahlen disagrees: “This is a new tax that will primarily hit low revenue families.” She also argues that implementing such a plan will have Vaud residents scuttling to other cantons to buy their pop. However, a trip to the neighbouring canton of Neuchâtel might not be far enough. Neuchâtel’s parliament recently approved an initiative aimed at introducing a tax on sugar added during manufacturing. The proceeds of this tax would be used to prevent diabetes and obesity.
Soft drinks contain high levels of sugar. The Coca-Cola Company says there are 10.6 grams of sugar per 100 ml of its cola, which means there are 35 grams in a 330 ml can. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends reducing daily sugar intake to 25 grams, so just one can of this cola exceeds this daily target by 40%. If the recommended daily water intake of eight to ten 200 ml glasses were taken in the form of cola, the WHO recommendation would be exceeded by more than 800%.
In addition to tooth damage, scientists have linked high sugar intake to increasing rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer and type II diabetes. The documentary Sugar Rush, by UK chef Jamie Oliver, looks at some of the roughly 7,000 diet related limb amputations that occur every year in the UK, arising from type II diabetes, a disease fueled by high-sugar diets.
A sugar tax in Mexico appears to have reduced sugary drink consumption significantly. According to the Guardian, Mexican soft drink consumption reduced by 5.5% the year following the introduction of a sugar tax, and by 9.7% the year after. The article describes how 70% of added sugar in the Mexican diet comes from soft drinks.
A healthy alternative to soft drinks, tap water, is virtually free. If a family of four in Switzerland switched from consuming only branded soda bought at the supermarket to only tap water, they would save around CHF 4,000 across a year. Encouraging people to ditch soft drink could save not only teeth and hospital visits, but also save struggling families a lot of money.
The new proposal will discussed in Vaud’s parliament between May and June, and presented to voters over the autumn this year.