Sugar tax should net pre-mixed alcoholic drinks

An anti-sugar lobby group is calling for the government to extend the parameters of the sugar levy to cover pre-mixed alcoholic and energy drinks which are packed with hidden sugar

The trend to sell pre-mixed cans of alcoholic drinks from classic gin and tonics to vodka and lemonade, not to mention an array of cocktail mixes from cranberry Cosmos to pink punk Mojitos, all packed with as many as 12 teaspoons of sugar, are adding to the obesity risk in the UK and cluttering supermarket shelves with temptation for drinkers.

Action on Sugar is calling for an extension of the soft drinks industry levy to include pre-mixed drinks - known in the drinks industry as alcohol-based RTD (ready to drink) - arguing that the tax has been ‘successful in reducing sugar in drinks like lemonade yet a vodka and lemonade is exempt, which is absurd’.

‘Popular “ready to drink” pre-mixed spirits sold in major UK retailers are unnecessarily high in hidden sugar and calories, and should be forced to reformulate immediately to the agreed criterion set by government in the soft drinks industry levy (SDIL) or pay the fine,’ Action on Sugar said in its latest product survey.

It is also targeting so-called power drinks, saying that the worst offender in the fruit based/soft mixed drink category was WKD Blue with 15 teaspoons of sugar. ‘If you were to drink a large 700ml bottle it would provide a staggering 59g sugar ­– the same as eating over four iced doughnuts in one sitting,’ Action on Sugar warned.

Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action on Sugar, based at Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘”Gin in a tin” has become a cultural phenomenon with these types of drinks often consumed “on the go” and without a moment’s consideration to how much sugar and alcohol goes into making them. Even if you did want to know, you can’t make a healthy choice as only one in 10 of the products surveyed had enough information available.’

The long-term costs of NHS treatment for obesity is £6.1bn, diabetes (£14bn) and hypertension (£2.1bn).

The soft drink levy, also known as the sugar tax, was introduced in April 2018. Drinks containing 8g of sugar per 100ml are now taxed at 24p per litre, while drinks with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml face a tax of 18p per litre.

Earlier this year government figures showed that more than £340m had been raised by the levy, with the proceeds going towards supporting healthy breakfast clubs and sports in schools.

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