Israeli docs: Cancelling sugary drinks tax ‘criminal neglect of public’


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to cancel the tax on soft drinks – pushed by the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) cabinet members, especially Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, because that sector consumes a lot and claimed the tax “discriminated” against them, has caused harm to the health of both the general and the haredi population. 

So charged the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians who, in a letter to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, said that the tax had reduced consumption of harmful soft drinks by 12% in the general population and by 20% in the haredi population.

“Reducing consumption saves many lives and prevents severe morbidity from complications of diabetes and obesity,” wrote the association, headed by epidemiologist Prof. Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine and Dr. Dorit Adler president of the Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition. 

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and and Arnon Ben Dor, Chairman of the Histadrut hold a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2023. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

“The public pays the health and economic cost of this negligence. The government must reduce the cost of healthful foods. We are in the midst of two terrible and overlapping crises – the worsening nutrition and health crisis and the epidemic of obesity on the one hand and the decline in food security, on the other hand. These represent an injury to the resilience of the population, and a growing burden on the health system.”

Imposing a tax on high-sugar drinks, the letter continued, “is a move that has been recommended by nutrition and public-health experts in Israel and around the world for years. Its goal is to reduce the rates of obesity, diabetes, and their many consequences – heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease to types of cancer and even depression. The tax that was introduced in January 2022 is supported by significant research-based information, recommendations from leading health organizations in the world and, of course, by the professional position of the Health Ministry.”

The imposition of the tax emerged from a growing concern for public health and the resilience of Israelis, they continued. “It has been proven beyond any doubt that excess sugar consumption, from a poor diet in general and from sugary drinks in particular, is a major factor in the obesity epidemic and the morbidity associated with it, and has a heavy economic cost for patients (including damage to quality of life and work productivity) and to the health system. The economic burden of the obesity epidemic in Israel is estimated by health economists at approximately NIS 20 billion per year.” 


The doctors told Smotrich that “data from a recent survey by the Maccabi Healthcare services health fund show that 36% of its insured report weight gain, and about 30% of those suffering from chronic diseases, most of which are related to nutrition as a cause but also as a key to treatment and balance.”

The doctors called on the finance minister “to examine your decision to eliminate sugar tax for the sake of public health, with an emphasis on the weaker sections and strengthening the health system. You should also examine the costs to health of ultra-processed. 

Copies of the letter were sent to Shas Health Minister MK Uriel Bosso and his director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov.

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