U.K. Sugar Tax Opponents Have Their Say

dentist with kid patient

In a recent post, we looked at the arguments presented by macroeconomics writer Colin Lloyd against the United Kingdom’s proposed sugar tax. For instance, there is the substitution problem. When sugar is left out of a recipe, to avoid the tax, it is a virtual certainty that the manufacturers will just throw other stuff in there instead, and sugar’s place will be taken by an untaxed and possibly less salubrious chemical.

Lloyd writes:

By targeting sugar in isolation the authorities drive consumers towards inferior goods or substitutes.

This idea seems to have a certain noble intent at first, but its logic quickly falls apart. If the other substances are as bad as or worse than sugar, let’s tax them too. Problem solved! Or better yet, ban dangerous additives altogether.

A sugar tax is, in effect, primarily a soda tax whenever and wherever it is found, so the makers of fizzy drinks always have plenty to say.

Other talking points

The tax opponents will diplomatically concede that a sugar tax might work, if sugar were the sole cause of obesity, which, alas, it is not. This is a much weaker argument that can be addressed by making an obvious comparison. Cigarettes are not the sole cause of cancer, but large parts of society make a vigorous effort to get rid of them.

If a sugar tax can reduce the obesity rate by only a few percent, that still translates into a positive effect on a lot of lives:

The problem with obesity is one of excessive calorific intake rather than sugar consumption per se.

Tax opponents tend to insist that “Obesity is caused by excessive calorie intake, whatever form it may take.” Lately, a lot of evidence seems throw doubt on this certainty. Apparently, even the speed of light is no longer a constant. Lloyd also says:

[…] other perceived benefits of imposing a sugar tax include: a reduction in the incidence of dental decay […] and a reduction in Type 2 Diabetes.

The need for less dentistry, if allowed to happen, will be an actual, rather than a “perceived” benefit. Is the writer not aware that every year in the United Kingdom, 26,000 children between the ages of 5 and 9 are admitted to hospitals because of severely deteriorated teeth?

When Cancer Research UK scrutinized the habits of kids between 11 and 18, the results were unsettling. The average young person in that age range was found to consume 234 cans (or 77 liters or 20 gallons) of sugar-laden soda per year. Also, 4- to 10-year-olds put away 111 cans per year.

Before reading this statement by journalist Rosie Taylor, the sensitive reader must brace for an unpleasant shock:

And even toddlers aged between 18 months and three years old are drinking 1.3 cans of sugary drinks a week, or just under 70 a year.

This all adds up to lot of publicly funded in-patient dentistry. The country will probably find that a reduction in type 2 diabetes is also a real, not a “perceived,” benefit.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sugar, Honey, Honey — the Weighty Problem of Obesity and Substitution,” CobdenCentre.org, 03/17/17
Source: “Teens have enough fizzy drinks a year to fill a bath,” DailyMail.co.uk, 11/21/16
Image by olesiabilkei/123RF Stock Photo

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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
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