New fat tax on cans of the good stuff. Where will it all end?
In a northern town a British man sits clutching a can. Slurping from the sparkling liquid he laments the fact that he will be unable to buy another one. Bureaucratic officials have decided to levy an arbitrary tax on his drink, because they, in their wisdom, have decided he shouldn’t drink it. No, this isn’t a Glaswegian drinking a can of Tennent’s Super, but an ordinary Joe drinking a can of pop.
The “fat tax” bandwagon is rolling around again, with members of the Department of Public Health in Oxford suggesting a 20% tax could lead to a drop in obesity-related diseases.
As reported in the British Medical Journal, Dr Oliver Mytton and Dr Mike Rayner claim poor diets in the UK must be tackled, and suggest taxation is one way of achieving this aim. They estimate that taxing sugary drinks at this rate could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year.
Dr Rayner said “obesity has rocketed recently and if anything our diet is getting worse. We need to take steps to tackle this problem as a nation. It’s affecting our health and it’s affecting our wallets through the increased burden on the NHS and the taxpayer.
“David Cameron said that he wanted to look at fat taxes last October. He should now commission an independent review of the existing evidence that looks at the options for taxing unhealthy foods. It is basic economic theory that raising the price will change consumption, and we already use the taxation system in this way to influence behaviour” he finished.
The research team claims government intervention by way of taxation can be justified when the market fails to provide the ‘optimum’ good for society’s well-being, citing the duties on alcohol and tobacco as a prime example. “We have taxes on unhealthy goods such as tobacco and alcohol. And we don’t have taxes on books as they can be seen as a public good to be encouraged.” Clearly someone ought to tell them that most people don’t actually eat books.
The research also suggests changing VAT to ‘penalise’ unhealthy foods with the 20% levy. In certain circumstances this is already the case- chocolate items are standard rated for VAT while bread is not- but using VAT in this way would be clumsy and likely to cause problems. Just look at the poor pasty-munchers.
However, Dr Rayner does not advocate a tax on saturated fat, as has previously been mooted, and as adopted by Denmark last year. He claims that, by avoiding foods high in saturated fat, people might replace them with foods high in carbohydrates – and these foods tend to also be high in salt. The overall effect on health might be negative. With a soft drink tax, people would most likely lead to people swapping to low calorie or sugar free drinks, which, he claims, would still be “beneficial for health”. At least until someone decides that aspartame is bad for you. Oh, wait…
So what do you think? Is the Scottish alcohol levy the first step on a slippery Nanny State slope of Government-approved imbibing? Would a fizzy drink tax work? Surely it is the takeaways, fry-ups and ready meals causing the nation’s obesity issue rather than the can they swill it down with. Besides who are the Government to tell us what we can or can’t drink?