IENGLISH LISTENING: Sugar Tax (Advanced)

Sugar Tax

DESCRIPTION: A discussion on RTE radio about a new sugar tax in Ireland, the effects of the tax and how revenue from the tax should be spent.


Ring fence (verb) = put money aside for a specific purpose

Initiative (noun) = a plan or strategy to deal with a problem or improve a situation

In principle (phrase) = based on moral judgement

Clog (verb) = fill up too much and block

Budget (noun) = the yearly government estimate of national revenue and expenditure


The sugar tax is a new policy

Money from the tax is used to specifically resolve obesity in Ireland

Tax money from ___________ sales was used to fund the cardiovascular strategy in the 1970s

The obesity issue in Ireland is:

Donal says he hopes the tax will:

Donal says money from the tax should be spent on:

Donal says severely obese people need to:

1 in __ Irish 7 year olds are overweight

People in ____________ areas are more likely to be overweight

The Finance Minister will spend money from the sugar tax on fighting obesity

The Irish government has dedicated certain tax money for specific purposes before

Soft drinks companies might reduce the sugar content of their drinks because of the tax

Ireland has __________ facilities for obesity prevention

Cycling to work and __________ are important to help people be fitter









Presenter: Disappointment has been expressed at the news that revenue from a new sugar tax will not be ring fenced to fund initiatives to tackle obesity and promote healthy lifestyles. The Finance Minister, Michael Noonan has confirmed he will not set aside funding from the new tax for any specific purpose because he’s opposed to the principal of ring fencing any tax revenue. With me now professor Donal O’Shea, chair of the obesity policy group in the Royal College of Physicians. First of all, your general response to this news that there won’t be any ring fencing.

Donal: Yeah that’s been a consistent line from the department of finance really for a very long time since the sugar tax had been first discussed and I think it’s an in principle objection to the concept of ring-fencing. Now, there’s a precedent for ring fencing with the cardiovascular strategy back in the 1970’s, where the tax on cigarettes was put into funding the cardiovascular strategy, probably the most successful or one of the most successful public health strategies.

P: Yeah, more recently, sorry to cut across you Donal, when they put their hand into the people’s private pension pots and took out large amounts of money. They said it was specifically to bring- to promote jobs and tourism and bring down the VAT there, so there are precedents.

D: I don’t mind them saying we’re not ring fencing. Once on budget day they announced we expect the sugar tax will raise a hundred thousand or a hundred million and in the next line, we are committing a hundred million to preventive measures for obesity because we have to start winning the prevention of obesity fight because it’s already, you know, clogging our hospital trolley system.

P: Now, the suggestion is, according to some reports, that the very fact of it being announced and coming in means that it would raise less revenue than was initially forecast maybe about half that figure of a hundred million because the manufacturers are reducing the sugar content of the drinks.

D: Yeah and you know, that’s success because that’s changing the environment and that is the best changes that are made are to the environment ones that people don’t see that make a healthier choice, an easier choice and reformulation which the industry are continuing to look at positively as they begin to chase the health space is a very positive effect. So if the sugar tax fails to generate revenue because it results in less sugar consumption and healthier drinks on the shelves, well that’s a ‘wow’.

P: Let’s say for instance there was a figure available, an extra 50 million made available to Minister Harris or whatever Minister is there, whoever it is come next budget. How would you like to see that money spent?

D: Well you have to look at the balance between prevention and treatment so, you – and I’ve always said 80% of the obesity battle is around prevention but we’ve historically ignored treatment for so long that we’ve, you know abject treatment facilities for obesity in this country. So the healthy Ireland framework is there for the next 10 years or for the next 7 years now and that is about getting Ireland healthier at a physical activity level, at a lifestyle level and you have to grow the healthy Ireland fund that was 5 million allocated to a healthy Ireland fund in the last budget which was really positive because it was a start, but it’s a tiny fraction of what we need. So you’ve got to look at the environment, the cycle paths and, you know, the people’s ability to actively commute to work is very important. People’s pastimes, I was talking to Padraig Horgan outside I mean gardening is such a positive pastime and yet there’s very little visibility about it and it’s something everybody could get engaged with. And you know, then you’re improving your mental health, you’re improving your physical health so I would always say you’ve got to put a lot of the money into prevention, maybe 80% but if you put 20% of that 50 million into treatment then you can start to build your treatment service.

P: And what would that treatment involve?

D: Well you’ve got to, I mean, ultimately for managing overweight, you’ve got to psychological aspects and the physical aspect and the nutritional aspect so you’ve got to resource primary care to have dieticians, psychologists, physios to help with brief intervention counselling to get people to make small changes then you’ve got to have for those who are severely obese access to the kind of service that I run in and Loughlinstown Francis Finucane runs in Galway which is you work with a dietician, physio, psychologist intensively for a year and you have surgery and/or medication if you need it.

P: I mean, for instance could you see some of that money going to the national treatment purchase fund to buy extra operations for people?

D: We have unacceptable waiting lists of over 300 waiting for obesity surgery from the Loughlinstown clinic alone, I’m not up to date with the Galway figures. We’ve got to deal with that and if its treatment purchase fund I’m happy, it just needs to happen.

P: Right meanwhile though, I think the figures in this they’re fairly consistent are they not. They look at em- and failry extensive studies are done one at primary school level measuring levels of obesity and overweight.

D: Yeah, I mean the child obesity survey that was announced yesterday, I mean, that’s a fantastic body of work that’s beginning to give us the evidence we need now saying where we are with obesity in kids in Ireland, and where we are is unacceptable. 1 in 4 of our seven years olds are overweight or obese. There is a trend down in the better off, better educated kids from about 25% 6 or 7 years ago, to 20% now. The disadvantaged schools; that downward trend is not seen, so the social justice element and the health inequality element of child obesity is, I think, its biggest challenge for addressing.

P: But is there sense from that or could you conclude from that that the people with less money are spending more of that money on unhealthy foods?

D: I think, I mean we know the powers of consumption are like that, we know if you live in a less well of area, the density of supermarkets is low and the density of fast food outlets is high and in the better off areas, you’re closer to your Happy Pear and your Supervalu, than to your cheap takeaways.

P: right, but in any event you’ll be watching them closely I suppose, what they do with this money?

D: We will. I mean, the college of physicians are, we’re going to be watching this really closely. It’s a really important time and within the ‘Healthy Ireland’ framework , if we can’t be innovative, then we will continue to lose the battle.