The United Kingdom is Europe’s third most obese nation, and its National Health Service groans under the expense of obesity-related illness. Finally, in early March, the long-awaited sugar tax was introduced by Chancellor Philip Hammond as part of the spring budget. Hammond noted that manufacturers have already been reducing the amount of sugar in their products.
This is one of the reasons why writer Colin Lloyd says that a sugar tax will not solve the obesity problem. All the manufacturers have to do, to satisfy customer taste and escape the tax, is substitute an artificial sweetener. If there were no sugar substitutes, the tax might work. But there are — and this is why he feels the tax will fail to do whatever it is intended to do.
To describe that intention, he offers a formula:
Impose Tax => Prices Rise => Sales Decline => Fewer Calories => Less Obesity => Better Health
But better health is not the only goal. The other goal is to raise money, which in theory the government will use to offset the costs of obesity-related disease. Lloyd has two things to say about this aspect, then it will be left for economists to debate:
The imposition of such a tax is “negatively-redistributive” since it will fall more heavily on those with lower incomes. If the purpose of imposing this tax is solely to raise revenue there are less discriminatory and more effective solutions.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not taxed like sucrose, and a fair-sized body of evidence says it is horrible for people and possibly even more fattening than sugar. The World Health Organization encourages any country contemplating a sugar tax to include HFCS. In addition, there is a whole evil pharmacopeia of chemicals that are harmful to the body and devastating to its trillions of tiny helpful tenants, the microbiota.
Lloyd says that in the United Kingdom, per capita sugar consumption began to drop in the 1970s, and what is more, consumption has steadily declined in the United States too. He embarks on a lengthy digression proving that the U.S. government is now and always has been most interested in guaranteeing large profits to sugar growers and processors.
After describing the series of grotesque maneuvers undertaken by the government over the years to prop up sugar prices, he refers to a chart which:
[…] shows the relationship between US and Non-US sugar prices since 1980. On average the US pays twice as much to satiate its sweet tooth.
It’s not clear what the writer is getting at. Maybe the point is, although Americans pay twice the going rate for sugar, they’re still fat as all-get-out. So imposing a tax, even if it doubles the price the consumer pays, will not make any difference because people will continue to gorge on sugar anyway.
When they run out of tactics, sugar pushers always go for this one: Nobody knows enough yet about the long-terms effects of any proposal, to say whether it is truly effective. That objection is easily countered. Unless some countries get serious about giving the sugar tax a try there will never be enough data to show a clear picture.
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