Fat tax on fizzy drinks and milk edges ever nearer

22 December 2011

fizzy drinkA few years ago, when I used to smoke, I used to think they would never be able to ban smoking. Then, after a successful ban in parts of the US, and then in Ireland, the inevitable ban came into force in July 2007. While the concept of a “fat tax” in the UK originally seemed a fluffy and ridiculous American idea that would never make it across the Atlantic, growing support amongst academia, and in our neighbouring countries, could mean that we are at the start of a slippery slope into fat taxing.

The latest chapter in the campaign proposes imposing a 10% fat tax on sugary drinks and full fat milk, which would, it is suggested, cut consumption and prompt a switch to healthier alternatives. Sugary and full-fat drinks have been blamed for expanding waistlines, claimed in a new British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) study, one of the co-authors being Professor Susan Jebb, an eminent nutrition specialist who has been the government's main adviser on obesity since 2007.

A growing number of countries are considering fat taxes in order to demotivate the purchase of ‘unhealthy’ products which contain a lot of saturated fat or sugar. Following Denmark’s introduction of a fat tax on foods with more than 2.3% saturated fat in October this year, David Cameron said that the coalition would consider following suit as a way of minimising the huge and rising medical harm and financial cost to the National Health Service caused by obesity and obesity related illness. But it’s not just those jumper-wearing Danes- the French are planning to introduce a soft drinks tax, Hungary has already brought in an extra levy on all "high-fat-sugar-salt" products, and Finland is punishing sweet-munchers. Interestingly though, Ireland brought a soft-drink tax in but then abandoned it.

The BJN study analyses trends in consumption of all drinks by both children and adults in Britain between 1986 and 2009 before estimating the likely impact of a 10% increase in the price of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). "In testing taxation as an option for shifting beverage purchase patterns, we calculate that a 10% increase in the price of SSBs could potentially result in a decrease of 7.5ml per capita per day. A similar 10% hike in the cost of full-fat milk would also reduce consumption of it by 5ml per person per day and increased intake of reduced fat milk by 7ml per head every day.”

But it’s not just some random academics in a cupboard with this view. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) “supports legislative measures to tackle major public health issues, such as obesity, where there is substantial evidence to support it."

Professor John Wass, chair of the college's obesity working party, added "Legislative measures have already worked in France, where food and drink in schools is controlled and all marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt is banned unless they are taxed and marketed with a health warning. Studies have shown that following these measures, the number of overweight children in France has dropped from 18.1% in 2000 to 15.5% in 2007," he said.

The RCP is "sceptical" that the Government’s current plan of "nudging" consumers to adopt healthier lifestyles will succeed , saying that "the additional force of legislation or financial pressures" is necessary.

Dr Mike Rayner, obesity expert and public health researcher at Oxford University, said: "This research adds to the increasing weight of expert opinion that fiscal measures are an underused mechanism which may prove to be an important public health tool for influencing people's food choices away from those high in saturated fat, salt or sugar." Ministers should now commission "an independent review which would make recommendations on UK taxation on unhealthy foods, considering both economic factors and health outcomes", Rayner added.

Unsurprisingly, the soft drinks industry dismissed the idea, describing it as "ineffective, intrusive and unfair". Richard Laming, of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: "A tax on soft drinks is not the way to fight obesity. Many people enjoy soft drinks within a balanced diet: those people should not be targeted for additional taxes. Balanced diets and active lifestyles can only be achieved through information and education and not regulation or compulsion."

Other arguments against the effectiveness of such an idea are that consumers would simply buy larger bottles, use cheaper shops, drink cheaper brands or only buy soft drinks on  on of the numerous special offers. Given that many consumers pay many times the price for Coca-Cola or Pepsi than unbranded cola, surely few would be deterred by a 10% price rise?

So is this just another example of tax gone mad? Surely everyone who drinks Coke is not an elephantine bloater, so why punish the many to target the few? And is it really fair to say that fizzy drink consumption alone makes people obese? Why not have a fat tax on NHS treatment based on your weight instead?

The Department of Health refused to say if it supported a soft drinks or any other "fat" tax.

TOPICS:   Health

28 comments

  • LD
    Milk??? Surely essential part of a balanced diet? The Government used to give it away when a was a kid, until 'Thatcher the Snatcher'
  • MrRobin
    Who the hell drinks full-fat milk anyway?? It's rank!
  • RAEIoaerhoi
    Not full-fat milk. Fatty.
  • Sawyer
    The worrying thing is - that while sugary drinks are undoubtedly fattening - in overall health terms they're probably no worse than the sugarfree crap with aspartame/saccharin. Nothing wrong with full-fat milk either. Everything in moderation, people.
  • Dan
    Can we not just have a lard-ass cull?
  • Pizza A.
    Can't stand full fat milk myself, but can't babies only drink full fat milk????
  • Arse L.
    Nanny State gone mad. Next it will be booze, and then they will be closing down social networks at times of "national importance". What next, a 3% tax rise on everyone to pay for pensions..............
  • Mike H.
    Why not just tax people based on their weight? Fat cunts will be forced to lose weight then
  • Sicknote
    @MrRobin The only person I know who has full fat milk is Mrs Slocombe, "...my pussy laps it up" she would exclaim. But seriously I think Conky Cola & Pepsit should have a 500% tax added, then only us wealthy lot can enjoy the sugary highs and lows
  • klingelton
    it makes no sense to increase taxes at a time of economic crisis and put jobs at risk. This new tax is assured. commence stock piling.
  • heywood j.
    Wait a minute. Why exactgly do they want us to be healthy and live longer ? We can't pay peoples pensions now due to living longer, we have lost billions in tax from cigarettes and millions of pubs/clubs shut down due to rate and tax increases and non-smoking rules. Plus, we were ALL given milk through our first years of primary school and not ONE child at my school was overweight out of hundreds. But, thats because we exercised all day at school in the playground, played football after school, rode our bikes everywhere, and walked the streets to find our friends. Forced exercise is what's needed.
  • Brian's U.
    I wouldn't mind eating healthier, however food prices have shot up so much now that the fast food option is much cheaper than fresh food. Chicken and chips for £3. What fresh food can you get for £3? Some cucumber and carrots? No wonder people are eating more fast food, it's cheaper and with the economy screwing us so badly can you blame them? This fat tax will only hit those on low incomes the hardest.
  • Kevin N.
    Shame there is not a wanker tax or would it effect politicians too much?
  • MrRobin
    @Brian's Uncle The tax on fatty foods should be used to subsidise the cost of healthy foods
  • MrRobin
    @heywood I agree with much of what you say but tax receipts from tobacco duties have actually increased steadily over the last 10 years... http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/tax_receipts/tax-receipts-and-taxpayers.pdf
  • Tom
    @Pizza D Action Babies can only drink human milk, and you can't tax that! This is a great idea. It should be clear that the cheapest way to live isn't to eat sugary crap. That means either subsidising normal food or taxing the crappy processed food (or both). Plus, there are moral issues with the terrible working conditions of sugar farmers but fresh foods are generally much better. I'm not sure why full-fat milk would be taxed, that sends out a confusing message if you ask me. Hydrogenated fats are really bad, any other fats are generally fine.
  • Alexis
    I thought full fat milk contained much higher levels of vitamin D and that a lot of the fat isn't absorbed because it binds with the calcium in the intestines?
  • comecon
    Full fat milk is much nicer - nice creamy taste. Everything with full fat, full sugar and normal amounts of salt - no diet, reduced or 'lite' crap tastes much better. The government should be encouraging kids to drink milk rather than the fizzy drinks, not taxing whole milk too! Guess I shall be buying semi skimmed and mixing it with double cream. They used to feed skimmed milk to the pigs as it wasn't 'fit for human consumption'. How things have changed - they truly were better times without our Nanny Government mollycuddling us!
  • Businessman
    I like the gold-top Jersey milk and I'm not that fat. Most people in the Western world who are obese are because they consume too many simple carbohydrates not because of fats and oils. (Translation: fatty things are not that bad but doughnuts and rice krispies fuck you up)
  • Haggis
    @Brian's Uncle Perhaps if you're foolish enough to buy your fresh fruit and veg in a supermarket. I visit my greengrocer once a week, and for less than a tenner get more than enough fruit and veg for a massive salad every day and 3-4 portions of fruit a day.
  • Brians c.
    Brians uncle are you fucking real - enjoy your sickley chicken you poor dumb bastard - having kept chickens - I wouldnt dreams of putting some badly treated sickly animal on my plate - ergh - you may as well eat processed shit - As for not beaing able to eat good quality ( from a clean well managed food chain ) food purchased for £3 or under are you fucking for real.
  • Samantha
    Full fat milk?? srsly??! While yes it might be not so good for you if you drink it by the gallon, the caloric difference between semi-skimmed (2% fat) and standardised whole milk (3.8% fat) when you consider the amount you pour on your cornflakes, is maybe 10 whole fscking calories!
  • Throttle
    Sounds like another way to make some extra cash rather than make people eat healthier, I never drink full sugar drinks or full fat milk but hiking the prices up to sway people of buying will put more people out of work eventually. Would it not be more logical to do something about prices of healthy food and get them down in price, I mean if you look at the likes of a healthy sandwich you would be looking at £2.50 for one sandwich which isn't much when the likes of a chippy £2.50 would get you likes of a bag of chips and a pie etc: and then have some change spare ? Eating healthy is expensive when your going out buying all fresh salad, veg and meat it really adds up in price.. They'd be better trying get healthier products priced down imo.
  • Andy
    my son is now 3, he drinks full fat milk as advised by health visitor, he has dun since he come off powdered milk. If he drinks any other it gives him the sh*ts!!
  • Jimmy R.
    Value Added Tax Income Tax Council Tax Fuel Duty Tax Road Tax Milk Tax Lemonade Tax Cola Tax They'll be taxing us for having a crap soon enough This country is getting worse...and worse...and worse
  • Bill B.
    @Jimmy Ricky They already tax you for having a crap. It's called sewerage rates ;)
  • Andrew
    how about a c*nt tax on all MP's, Own arse dwelling do-gooders & twats preaching at how we live our lives? tax fresh veg, cos it goes off too quick & encourages waste, increases an individuals methane output, and excess travel back to the shops. Tax the church as it passes off fantasy as fact, creates unnecessary travel every sunday & harbours child abuse. wouldn't mind so much if something was done with the tax other than bailing out countries that won't help themselves (greece) or spending it on stupid reports like this. there are no jobs for the young, because the old are forced to stay in them, we are living longer & creating an abbundance of pensioners. surely those eating crap & putting themselves in an early grave are doing the nation a favour as they won't need said pension?
  • Glen
    What the government helping out by introducing more tax to get people slimmer?! A load of b*****ks. Its nothing more than yet another tax revenue stream to fill the governments coffers. If cigarettes and alcohol, were as bad as is made out, why doesn't the government ban them? well they wouldn't do that because it would be devasting to their expenses fund! The stuff they add to'sugar free' products is just as bad if not worse than saturated fat. Hey at least when it comes in to force, it pay for the NYE firework display...:-/

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