Charity calls for RTDs to follow sugar tax

21st January, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

A UK charity is calling on the government to introduce a sugar tax on ready-to-drink (RTD) products, similar to the levy imposed on soft drinks.

Tanqueray’s Flor de Sevilla Distilled Gin and Tonic RTD contains 18g of sugar

London-based charity Action on Sugar undertook a review of all RTD products sold at major UK retailers, looking at the sugar and calorie content of these drinks.

The study, described as the first of its kind, was launched to coincide with Sugar Awareness Week (20-26 January).

Action on Sugar said RTD products “should be forced to reformulate immediately to the agreed criterion set by government in the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) or pay the fine”.

In the UK, the SDIL puts a charge of 24p on soft drinks containing 8g of sugar per 100ml and 18p a litre on those with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml.

The charity said RTDs are contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, liver damage and tooth decay “as consumers are unknowingly drinking large amounts of sugar and calories”.

The survey looked at 202 RTD products sold in-store and online. Out of the 154 products collected in-store, nutrition information was “shockingly low”, according to Action on Sugar. Only 63 products (41%) in-store had some form of nutrition information on pack, while only 14 products (9%) had sugar information.

The charity commissioned independent laboratory analysis of 21 products and found that the gin and mixer with the most sugar was Classic Combinations Pink Gin and Tonic. The 250ml can contained 27g of sugar – the same sugar content as a bottle of Coca-Cola.

To compare, Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla Distilled Gin and Tonic had a third less sugar at 18g, which Action on Sugar said proved RTDs could be made with much less sugar.

A gin and tonic with light or low-sugar mixers were all 0g sugar per serve, except for Sipsmith London Dry Gin and Light Tonic at 3.3g of sugar per 250ml can.

WKD Blue and VK Blue topped the RTD list with the highest amount of sugar, with 59g and 52.4g per 700ml bottles, respectively.

Registered nutritionist Holly Gabriel at Action on Sugar, said: “This is the first time a survey of this kind has been conducted and the results highlight an immediate need for alcoholic drinks to be included in vital public health policies.

“Customers should be able to purchase better options and reformulating these drinks with less sugar, calories and alcohol is one way to achieve this. Our survey clearly shows that similar drinks can be made with less sugar and calories, yet drink manufacturers are failing to take the appropriate action.

“Urgent attention is required from the government to ensure that gaps in the law do not contribute to the rise in obesity and related health conditions, as well as alcohol harm.”

Brexit opportunity

Action on Sugar has recommended that the government uses the UK’s upcoming departure from the EU as an opportunity to ensure that all food, drink and alcoholic products display colour-coded front of pack nutrition labels.

In addition, the charity suggested the restriction of advertising, promotions and marketing of all alcoholic drinks. It also recommended that there should be further studies conducted to look at further policy measures such as plain packaging and warning labels.

Action on Sugar has also advised that the drinks industry ensures it “participates in the sugar and calorie reformulation programme with strict monitoring and evaluation mechanisms”, displays colour-coded nutritional labels on packaging, uses low-calorie mixers and syrups as standard, and reduces the sweetness of their alcoholic drinks.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “We urge the government to introduce mandatory labelling on alcohol products in order to give all of us easy access to the information needed to make healthier choices.”

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