Croatia’s Tax on Sugary Drinks Product of Health System Desperation?

Lauren Simmonds

As Novac/Goranka Juresko/Zlatko Simic writes on the 30th of July, 2019, amid last week’s more or less positive flood of information on various tax cuts in different sectors in Croatia, the exception to the wave of joy came in the form of the announced new tax on sugary drinks.

It was said at the time that this should have a “beneficial” impact on health, especially for kids, but also on Croatia’s overall health budget, referring to the “experiences of other countries” that reached for a similar goal, although their actual results were a little muddy, to say the least.

While the actual science of course remains unquestionable, the fact remains that the current Government of Croatia still doesn’t actually have a clear explanation as to why only sugars from certain carbonated juices are dangerous to health, while those from sweets, mussels, fruit yogurts and similar products apparently aren’t, at least according to their logic. Why have refined sugars from other sources remained clear of the tax man’s brutal scissors?

For example, a deciliter of Fanta has ten grams of sugar in it, and the same amount of fruit-based yogurt contains a massive 16 grams. Let’s be real, both is too much, because proper nutritional guidelines “approves” up to 35 grams of sugar a day for a man, and for women – up to 25 grams daily. Everything else is surplus that is considered to be detrimental to health, no matter where it comes from – sugary drinks, bread, beer… In addition, this proposal is not accompanied by simulations that should show what is expected from this measure and at what time or date, nor does it talk about what effects can be expected on Croatia’s relatively stretched health budget.

The Croatian Institute of Public Health, which should have been consulted before such decisions were made, said that “nobody had talked to them about it,” and manufacturers say the same.

”It is true that most sugars are brought into the body come from sugary drinks, but I’m afraid that this is a decision that hasn’t been prepared for and was not a logical consequence of a campaign in which citizens would get access to all the information about the dangers that come “from the plate” said Marijan Katalenić, an expert on food safety and quality.

He added that when it comes to food, any restrictions – which have proven to be a dubious decision in other countries – should reach a consensus at the EU level, and precisely on food quality.

”This is just a decision of desperate people at a moment when the health system can no longer pay for all the consequences of the bad impact of food on the health of citizens,” concluded Katalenić.

The consumption data for energy drinks among children and adolescents is indeed worrying, however. According to a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), 68 percent of adolescents and 18 percent of children drink energy drinks.

They are the victims of advertising that convinces them that they will learn faster and become better at sports, but in reality, the consequences are obesity, diabetes and of course, the constant lining of dentists’ already deep pockets with endless cases of caries. First is the intake of high amounts of sugar, which negatively affects the already significant problem of obesity. The second is the consumption of caffeine, a substance with an impact on the development of children, and something which needs to be investigated more extensively. The third is taste formation in children, that is, getting used to an extremely sweet, sugar-filled drink. The fourth is the blending of spirits and energy drinks that is popular with young people and can be very dangerous in some cases.

The above are just one part of the highlights of the conference “Better Food for Better Health”, which was organised by Biljana Borzan three years ago in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The experiences from other countries shows that the tax burden of carbonated beverages has different effects, depending on the country and the general social status. The sugar-based tax on these products have prompted manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their products by up to 50 percent in order to be below the taxable level.

”The measure had the greatest effect on less wealthy households, which significantly reduced the purchase of such beverages. In middle-class and better-off households, it has not had that much of an impact, and a good part of these consumers who are really determined to buy carbonated beverages have simply changed the brands they purchase,” noted Borzan.

According to one study, out of 31 analysed countries from the EU and the region, twelve of them (Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, France, Netherlands, Ireland, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Portugal and the United Kingdom) have a soft drink tax, whereas eighteen European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Spain and Sweden), do not have such a tax today.

What the real reasons behind Croatia’s seemingly rash decision to raise taxes on sugary drinks actually are will likely continue to be speculated upon, especially as the stated reason being so vague leaves a lot of room for various conclusions, none of which are much to do with health according to the aforementioned expert.

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