Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made good on his pledge to abolish the national tax on sweet drinks after submitting the order for government approval on Tuesday morning.
In conjunction with the law being submitted, the Finance Ministry convened a dialogue with several major Israeli manufacturers and the heads of leading supermarket chains, who pledged to lower the price within three days in order to reflect the absence of the tax.
“Ahead of Passover, we are lowering the tax on sweet drinks. This is a significant reduction in the public’s shopping basket,” said Smotrich. “At the same time, I agreed with the Health Ministry on establishing a joint team to examine encouraging the consumption of healthy food and reducing the consumption of sugar.”
Smotrich’s move was criticized by former environmental protection minister and current Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who has spoken out against the tax’s cancellation since the idea was initially floated last year.
“The finance minister today signed the cancellation of the tax on sugary drinks, or in other words: in a respite from the destruction of the justice system, we’ve made time to destroy health as well,” she tweeted.
Israel’s diabetes problem
The tax was put into place by former finance minister Avigdor Liberman in early 2022 in order to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks in an effort to combat diabetes, a disease that Israel has struggled with for several years. According to the Taub Center, the country’s rate of diabetes-attributed mortality is among the highest in the developed world as 11%. This lands Israel at 35th place out of a list of 37 developed nations.
According to Liat De Vries, a professor from Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Medicine and Institute of Endocrinology and Diabetes at Schneider Children’s Medical Center, obesity is closely linked with the intake of free sugars (those added to food or drinks).
“We see an increasing number of adolescents with obesity, which is certainly closely associated with consumption of free sugars,” De Vries said. “A small Coke bottle contains as much as 12 teaspoons of sugar, which is twofold the recommended daily consumption of an adult woman. So-called ‘natural juice’ has about nine teaspoons, and even these flavored water bottles have about four teaspoons of sugar, which is a lot.”
According to De Vries, there is a unanimous agreement among experts that drinking sugary drinks is a bad idea.
“In general, we are against any consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” she said. “Overall in Western countries – which, I presume we’re still considered one – about 43% of the sugar consumption comes from sugar sweetened beverages.”
She pointed out that sugar consumption is associated with a host of afflictions, including obesity and cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes, which is itself a leading cause for blindness, amputation and chronic renal failure in the Western world.