Sugar taxes will extract more money from citizens’ wallets for governments but do nothing to curb obesity.
While sugar is seen by some as the current food demon, it’s important to dial back the hysteria for a fact-based discussion.
Sugars are an important part of people’s diets, providing energy for the body and brain. Over the past decade, sucrose consumption in New Zealand has declined, and reports suggest most people consume at moderate levels.
All this while obesity has been rising. The remaining part of the energy-in, energy-out equation is physical activity, but anti-sugar activists prefer to blame food companies.
And note when they propose a new tax, they never propose lowering other taxes to compensate.
The inconvenient truth for those wanting to scapegoat full-sugar carbonated drinks – fizzy – is that there has been a dramatic drop in sales in the past 15 years as consumers turn to the growing array of zero calorie and diet fizz options now available.
With Kiwis eating less sugar and drinking less sugary fizz at a time of rising obesity levels, it’s nonsense to pretend fizz taxes are going to magic away the obesity problem.
I only drink a soda with sugar in it around 1% of the time – if nothing else is available.
Those arguing that because taxes helped curb tobacco harm they will work for sugar overlook the fact that tobacco taxes work only because they add close to 500 per cent to the cost of the product.
Those wanting to apply such taxes to fizz are effectively advocating for a 1.5 litre family serve of Coke to jump from $3.39 to nearly $17.
Don’t give them ideas!
And likening food regulation to tobacco regulation doesn’t bear even the slightest scrutiny. We have to eat food to live. Food consumed in moderation is not harmful.
A fizz tax of 10 per cent or 20 per cent will extract more money from Kiwis but leave buyer behaviour unchanged because, as British nutrition expert Professor Jack Winkler points out, “demand for soft drinks is very inelastic, very unresponsive”.
In his 2011 commentary in the British Journal of Nutrition, he said a 10 per cent tax on soft drinks would, at best, change behaviours by “less than a sip. It would not even cut sugar intake by a gram”.
But it would take more money out of taxpayers pockets and into the Government’s.