‘Sin tax’ proposed to curb growing reliance on caffeine

2013-04-01 00:00

IN a move to curb South Africa’s growing reliance on caffeine, a sin tax has been proposed for coffee, which could see consumers forking out substantially more for their morning pick-me-up.

In an exclusive interview with The Witness, an official from the national Treasury said that on consultation with the Department of Health, the sin tax is to be proposed to Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

Efac Ettal of the Treasury warned that the sin tax would be set high as coffee was considered a luxury item.

Ettal explained that sin taxes are levied to provide the state with an easily collectable and constant stream of revenue. For this reason, the criteria used to select a product for sin taxes are that it should be fast-moving, high-volume, a daily consumable and a non-essential product, for example alcohol and tobacco; hence the popular name “sin taxes”.

“Coffee carries several potentially severe health risks for drinkers, so it makes sense that it should be classified with alcohol and tobacco products as a sin-taxable commodity to discourage its use.”

South Africa is a net importer of coffee and consumes more than 20 000 tons per annum.

The sin tax on coffee has been dubbed “black gold” by some who see the potential to raise millions for government coffers.

“Despite rising coffee prices and tough economic times, the coffee sector in South Africa is growing year on year. A growing coffee culture is seeing more people demanding better quality and more expensive coffee. They have money to spend on it. It’s a luxury item. It should be taxed more,” said Ettal.

A supporter of the initiative to impose the sin tax on coffee, Barry Star from the national Health Department, said: “We as a nation are far too reliant on caffeine for our alertness. We should be out in the fresh air, exercising to help us stay awake, not downing cups of strong coffee which have a negative effect on our health. Coffee drinkers should migrate towards drinking our own home-grown rooibos tea, which has great health properties and will not be subject to sin tax.”

He said it has been scientifically proven that caffeine consumption leads to addiction, insomnia, a laxative effect and higher blood pressure levels.

He also said caffeine dependency syndrome was a growing phenomenon in the country.

“Drinkers even experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop having coffee.”

He quoted research by the American Heart Association that caffeine withdrawal “can strike 12 to 24 hours after a regular coffee drinker last consumes caffeine”.

Withdrawal is characterised by headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety and drowsiness, and lasts up to 48 hours or until a coffee drinker gets his caffeine fix.

“The country will ultimately benefit from the additional coffee tax that will encourage people to cut down on the beverage.”

However, Percal Layter, of the SA Coffee Lovers Association, reacted with anger to the proposed sin tax.

“It’s ludicrous. We will fight this all the way. It’s just another excuse to make a quick buck from hard- pressed consumers who are taxed on every pleasure they have. What’s next? A chocolate tax?”

• newsed@witness.co.za

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