The 'Sugar Tax' one year on

One year on from the ‘sugar tax’ – has it taken the fizz out of sugary soft drink sales and changed our buying behaviour?


Despite the benefits to our general health and oral health, the nation was divided when the government announced that a Soft Drinks Industry Levy or ‘sugar tax’ would come into force in April 2018 to address the UK’s alarming levels of obesity and poor oral health. Under the new levy, sugary drinks now have either 18p or 24p added to the price per litre, depending on the sugar content.  But how does the nation feel about the sugar tax one year on and has it affected our buying behaviour?


According to new figures* released by Simplyhealth, over half of UK adults (53%) say they support the tax. In an encouraging change of heart, 6% said they were initially opposed to the tax but they now support it. One in five people (20%) are ambivalent and say they neither support nor oppose the tax, and only 17% say they oppose the tax.


In terms of buying behaviour, the sugar tax is showing some positive results. One in ten adults (9%) said they used to buy sugary drinks but they now choose cheaper, lower-sugar or sugar-free options as they don't want to pay extra. A further 9% said they usually buy sugary drinks but paying extra is starting to bother them so they’re considering switching to cheaper, lower-sugar or sugar-free options soon. Encouragingly, 49% of adults said that they don’t drink sugary drinks so the tax doesn’t affect them. Only 12% remain undeterred by the tax and said they will continue to buy sugary drinks as usual.


Furthermore, the latest government figures released in November 2018** reveal that the first six months of the levy generated nearly £154 million in tax from manufacturers and traders. This revenue will help to fund physical education activities in primary schools, the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund, and provide a funding boost for breakfast clubs in over 1,700 schools.


The effects of the sugar tax on oral health


Commenting on the recent insights, Dr Catherine Rutland, dental spokesperson and Head of Professional Support Services at Simplyhealth, said: “Sugary drinks are a leading cause of tooth decay, particularly in children, teenagers and young adults. It’s encouraging to see that the sugar tax is starting to prompt some consumers to adjust their buying habits and opt for lower sugar versions. It’s also great to hear that almost £154 million has been raised in tax to pay for important children’s fitness and wellbeing initiatives. It will be interesting to see the effects of the levy on tooth decay rates in the long-term, and it will hopefully reduce the number of children being admitted to hospital for tooth extractions due to tooth decay.


“From an oral health perspective, it’s important to note that even lower-sugar fizzy drinks can have harmful effects on teeth. All fizzy drinks contain high levels of acid including carbonic, phosphoric and citric acid, which can weaken and erode tooth enamel. Plain water, milk and unsweetened tea and coffee are far more tooth-friendly options.


“While the sugar tax encourages people to cut back on sugary drinks, we know that these aren’t the only sources of sugar contributing to our obesity and oral health crises. As a nation, we still have high sugar diets fuelled by obvious offenders such as chocolates, sweets, cakes, biscuits and desserts, but we often overlook the hidden sugars found in the not-so-obvious sources. Many yoghurts, crisps, pasta sauces, ready meals and fruit-based snacks are packed with sugar, which is sometimes disguised under different names on the ingredients label.”


Easy ways to cut back on your sugar intake


  • Enjoy tooth-friendly snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables, hummus, cheese, nuts and breadsticks
  • Try to cook meals from scratch so that you know exactly what you’ve put into them
  • Cut back on obvious offenders such as chocolates, sweets, cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks and desserts, and keep these as occasional treats
  • Unexpected items can contain high levels of sugar, such as pasta sauces, soups, ready meals, cereals, yoghurts, crisps and ketchup, so always check the labels Look for hidden sugars on packaging labels. Watch out for ingredients including maltose, dextrose, glucose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, hydrolysed starch and molasses
  • Although a source of some nutrition, fruit juices, smoothies and dried fruit are high in sugar. Enjoy a small quantity in moderation and as part of a meal
  • Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, and crisps, and swap for wholemeal versions
  • Be mindful of your alcohol intake and watch out for high sugar options such as cider, alcopops, dessert wines, and anything with sugary mixers 



*Simplyhealth Consumer Oral Health Survey 2019. Online survey of 5083 adults conducted by Dynata (formally Research Now SSI) on behalf of Simplyhealth, undertaken 24 January – 5 February 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (18+).