Could Norway reintroduce tax on sugar-based products?

Health organisations in Norway have called for the government to propose the return of the country’s sugar tax when it makes an upcoming statement on public health.

Health organisations in Norway want the country to return to more broadly-reaching sugar taxes. Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The National Society of Public Health (Nasjonalforeningen for folkehelsen) said it wants sugar to be taxed in Norway in a response provided during the hearing round of the government’s work on a new public health statement, newspaper Aftenposten reports.

The public health society is one of several societies and other health organisations in Norway who want the return of the sugar tax, the newspaper writes.

The Ministry of Health and Care Services (Helse- og omsorgsdepartementet) is working on a statement on public health to be released next spring and has therefore asked for organisations and agencies to submit inputs over the issue.

The hearing stage of the process showed that several of organisations support the use of taxes to influence the consumer prices of healthy and unhealthy food, Aftenposten writes.

In the past, Norway has taxed sugar more heavily than it does today. But the previous government scrapped taxes on alcohol-free soft drinks and products that use sugar as raw ingredients, such as chocolate or cakes.

Tax is still applied to purchases of raw sugars including sugar cubes, caster sugar and similar products, with consumers paying the sugar tax at the point of purchase.

Because all of the sugar taxes were implemented as a way for the state to raise funds, rather than for health reasons, they did not necessarily impact similar foods in the same way and were therefore criticised as being ineffective from a health perspective, according to Aftenposten.

Two of the three taxes were for this reason eventually lifted following parliamentary discussions, but were never replaced.

“The removal of the sugar tax has taken away one of the most important levers we had to be able to affect consumer choice. Over 100 sector experts and organisations were behind the opposition to (former prime minister Erna) Solberg’s removal of the tax. It should be reimplemented but should have a clearer health objective,” the National Society of Public Health said in its hearing response.

A string of health organisations, including the National Society of Heart and Lung Disease (Landsforeningen for hjerte- og lungesyke), and cancer and diabetes charities along with dentists and doctors’ professional organisations are all also reported by Aftensposten to support the return of the tax.

The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise’s (NHO) food and drink section, NHO Mat og drikke, and breweries interest organisation Bryggeri og drikkevareforeningen said they opposed it.

“The (sugar) tax policy must be transparent and cannot be looked at without also considering border shopping [crossing the border to Sweden to purchase products without the tax, ed.],” the brewery organisation said.

READ ALSO: ‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing?

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Explained: How to register with a doctor in Norway 

If you're here for the long term, you will need to sign up for a GP or 'fastlege', who will be the main point of contact for your health needs. Here's what you need to know about the GP system. 

Explained: How to register with a doctor in Norway 

The overwhelming majority in Norway are entitled to a general doctor, GP, or as it’s known in Norwegian, a fastlege

Broadly speaking, those living and working in Norway legally are automatically enrolled in the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme. Everyone who is a part of this scheme is entitled to healthcare services and a GP by extension

One thing to note is that to be entitled to a GP, you will need to have a national identity number rather than a D-number. If you are unsure whether you are entitled to a GP, you can call helsenorge’s helpline (47 23 32 70 00). 

You won’t automatically be assigned a GP, though, you will have to register yourself.

READ ALSO: Six essential words you need when speaking to a doctor in Norway

How to sign up 

To find a GP, you will need to head to Norway’s digital health portal, helsenorge, and log in. You will need an electronic ID such as Commfides, BankID or Buypass ID to sign in. 

Once signed up, you can select the county you are in and see a list of doctors in your local area. The list will have the doctor’s name, age and gender, and if a substitute is covering them. 

In addition to this, the list includes how many spots the doctor has left for patients. If the GP you want isn’t available, you can join a waiting list. 

Am I allowed to change my doctor? 

If it doesn’t go to plan with the doctor you selected, you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

You are allowed to change your GP two times in one calendar year. You can also change your fastlege if your address in the national population register changes or the GP leaves the surgery or cuts their patient list. 

The change becomes effective from the first day of the following month. 

What else should I know? 

More and more residents have been left without a doctor or on a waiting list in recent years. 

The number of people without or waiting for a GP in March 2021 was 150,000, according to the latest annual report on the state of the fastlege system from the Norwegian Directorate of Health

An earlier report from the directorate has warned that a GP shortage could eventually lead to increased health inequality in Norway

Previous reports have said that the reason for the large number of people waiting for a GP was problems with recruiting more doctors. 

One piece of practical information you’ll need to be aware of is that when you change GPs, it is your responsibility to ensure your medical records are transferred to the new GP. You’ll need to contact your former GP surgery and ask them to forward your record to your new practice. 

And finally, it’s worth clearing up the misconception that healthcare in Norway is free. It isn’t. It’s actually covered by the National Insurance Scheme, with users paying small subsidies for healthcare. For example, a consultation with a GP costs 160 kroner

What do foreigners think of the GP system? 

The Local’s readers have previously shared their thoughts on the country’s healthcare system. Among the positives were competent GPs, excellent quality of treatment, and good quality service. 

Some said that finding a same-day appointment with their GP. 

However, this doesn’t apply to everyone’s experience, and the most frequent issues readers had were long waiting lists for appointments and being assigned a GP. 

READ MORE: What do foreigners think of the Norwegian healthcare system?