10 reasons why sugar taxes suck
Illiberal, regressive, unnecessary, ineffective, cynical … need we go on?
Public Health England has now released its much delayed report Sugar Reduction: the evidence for action. The proposal that is getting all the headlines is for the ‘introduction of a price increase of a minimum of 10-20 per cent on high-sugar products through the use of a tax or levy such as on full-sugar soft drinks, based on the emerging evidence of the impact of such measures in other countries’.
Here are 10 good reasons why it’s a bad idea.
1. A sugar tax is scattergun
Every consumer of sugary drinks would pay them, regardless of whether they had health problems or not. In military terms, they are more like carpetbombing than a surgical strike.
2. A sugar tax is often easily avoided or offset
For example, through changing brands (own-brand sodas are much cheaper than the brand-name versions), buying in larger quantities and so on.
3. A sugar tax is ineffective
The BMA has suggested that 186,000 people will ‘not be obese’ as a result - but in reality, that means a tiny decline in weight and diabetes risk among the 12 million people who are obese in the UK, just shifting a small proportion from one side of the ‘obesity’ threshold to the other.
4. A sugar tax is regressive
It would not be based on income but on consumption, so poorer people would pay a larger slice of their incomes to cover this tax, and as poorer people tend to drink more soda relatively speaking, they will pay more absolutely, too.
5. A sugar tax is illiberal
Using taxation to modify behaviour means the government trying to make decisions for us about what we drink, regardless of the many different reasons why we choose one product over another.
6. A sugar tax is unnecessary
There is plenty of choice in the marketplace for alternative drinks should consumers prefer low-calorie versions, from diet sodas to bottled water.
7. A sugar tax is cynical
Governments tend to use food taxes as a sneaky way of raising more cash - a stealth tax not a health tax.
8. A sugar tax hits the wrong people
People who are already overweight are disproportionate purchasers of the low-calorie versions of drinks. It will be the slim and the mildly chubby who end up paying this supposed anti-obesity tax.
9. A sugar tax is inconsistent
Some kinds of sugary drinks like fruit juices, which are supposed to be one of your five a day, will either be exempt or they will be taxed as unhealthy while still being recommended as healthy.
10. A sugar tax distorts the market
It represents the government trying to tell companies what prices they should charge for their products instead of letting demand decide, setting an unwelcome precedent for other kinds of intervention.