IF THE Scottish government can take the decision to have folic acid added to commercially made bread without waiting for the nod from Westminster, couldn’t it also autonomously introduce a tax on sugary drinks?

The pressure to do so is certainly mounting from some quarters as obesity rates continue to climb, a mind-boggling 173 million litres of sugary drinks were sold to Scots last year, and a third of all children’s intake of sugar is from fizzy drinks. If things continue at the current rate, 40% of the Scottish population will be obese 15 years from now.

The simple answer, though, is no. The creation of new taxes remains broadly reserved to Westminster. Any sugar tax proposed in Scotland would be subject to the approval of the UK parliament.

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Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would not rule out a fizzy drinks tax, which lobbyists are interpreting as a move towards his agreeing: only months ago he said he did not see a need for it. Now the World Health Organisation has backed the idea. So far, though, the jury’s out.

Even if Scotland doesn’t have the power to introduce a sugar tax of its own, it is certainly being debated here – with temperatures often reaching boiling point, if not total caramelisation.

An interesting discussion was organised last week in Edinburgh by Source, the new food campaigning body founded by Mike Small, formerly of the Fife Diet. Attended by leading names in food and public health, its premise was that if it didn’t agree with the tax, the Scottish government’s talk of creating a Good Food Nation is simply an embarrassment, because the worst aspects of our diet haven’t changed in 15 years: there’s been a paltry 1% drop in our sugar intake in that period. A sugar drinks duty for Scotland, it was argued, would at least kickstart a greater public awareness of the effects of sugary drinks on the nation’s health.

In Mexico, the tax has resulted in a consumption drop of up to 17% and a tax revenue of £1252m in 2014. In France, Finland and Hungary, demand has also dropped since the introduction of the tax.

But as far as I can see, the impact of the duty in other countries does not include evidence of improvement in health.

At the Source event, some delegates expressed frustration with the perceived sluggishness of the Scottish government to declare its stance on the subject. But others speakers warned that caution was prudent. A sugary drinks tax might simply encourage people to buy artificially sweetened drinks, which is arguably worse for health than sugar; a holistic approach to re-educate us away from our innate craving for sweetness, and all foods with added sugar, would be more effective and longer lasting.

The public health minister Maureen Mills has said that the Scottish government was encouraging retailers to “shift the balance” of their special offers away from sugar-laden foods and drinks to healthier products. Only last week, a major supermarket chain was promoting fizzy drinks at the door at just 40p a litre.

Shirley Spear, chair of the Scottish Food Commission, has stated that a fizzy drinks tax is not the only answer. To effect the necessary change in diet and health is a “massive” issue not solved by a sugar tax alone.

The Food and Drink Federation points out that additional taxes on top of the already enforced 20% VAT on many foods and drinks would be regressive, ineffective and unworkable.

It says this complex challenge needs a complex solution, one which involves and empowers people, not taxes them.

Food manufacturers need to make more radical changes to their formulations if they want to avoid the consequences of a sugar tax. Instead, it seems that in a bid to keep us hooked on sugar - and to protect their own interests - the fight-back by the powerful food industry has already started.

According to a report by Food Standards Scotland, there is 115g of sugar in the food the average Scot purchased daily last year – well above the World Health Organisation’s recommended intake of 25g a day. The amount of regular soft drinks bought by households in Scotland dropped by 21% in 2014/15 – but sales of diet drinks remained static. And although the number of puddings and desserts bought into our homes has dropped by 7% since 2010, the amount of fat the Scottish population receives from puddings and desserts has remained static and sugar levels have increased – leading FSS researchers to conclude that manufacturers have changed their recipes to include more sugar or fat products. The amount of sugar and fats in cakes and pastries purchased has risen steadily since 2011.

Consumer education and guidance is all very well but there is always going to be a raft of consumers who for one reason or another continue to make poor food choices – especially when faced with heavy in-store promotions. They can’t keep being thrown to the lions.

Is a tax on sugary drinks the only answer? Despite the disagreements, there is consensus: the last thing we need to help the medicine go down is yet another spoonful of sugar.