Friday, 9 March 2012
Is the Time Right for a Tax On Sugar ?
In the UK, where I live, all the debate relating to health issues is now on the Health and Social Care Bill 2011, which is currently before Parliament. The Bill, as I understand it, only relates to how the NHS (National Health Service) is administered. While trying to improve accountability and achieve savings in the NHS’s budget are laudable objectives, the main reasons why people are getting sick in the first instance are not being debated at all.
One of those reasons clearly is the amount of sugar in the diet. Various studies carried out now provide sufficient evidence to establish a link between sugar intake and health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, arthritis, asthma and heart disease. There is also strong evidence that sugar supresses the immune system and disturbs the mineral balance in the body. The author, Nancy Appleton, in her book titled “Lick The Sugar Habit“ and on her website, lists no less than 146 reasons why sugar is detrimental to health. She has relied upon publications by various eminent people and institutions in the field of health in reaching her conclusions.
It is added sugars, as opposed to naturally occurring ones that need to be targeted as a health hazard. In recent years sugar, or sugar substitutes, have been added to most processed foods and to all soft drinks making it almost impossible to avoid when shopping. Dr Lustig of the University of California in the daily battle to avoid sugar in all its different forms advises:”learn to be a food label expert”. Look for ingredient descriptions on packaging that contain the words like: “sugar, corn syrup, honey, dextrose, fructose, sucrose or aspartame”.
Governments across the world over the past 40 years have been very successful in discouraging people from smoking by doing the following: taxing the price of a packet of cigarettes to the hilt; banning the advertising of tobacco products; putting a health warning on packaging; and making it illegal to smoke in certain places to which the general public have access. Most health authorities have now acknowledged that these combined measures have significantly reduced the number of smoking related health problems and deaths.
Would anything similar to those tactics used for tobacco products work for sugar? Although sugar in all its forms is more difficult to define, there is no reason why a tax on it could not be passed on to the consumer at the point of purchase, thereby contributing positively to the health of the nation whist increasing tax revenues at the same time. In addition to being listed in the ingredients list, a clear warning could be put on packaging as to the danger of man-made added sugars to conform to the most recent findings by medical experts on the subject.
If a tax on sugar is proposed, you can expect strong resistance to it from sugar, food and soft drinks companies .The pharmaceuticals are unlikely to remain in the neutral corner either as a healthier nation is hardly in their best interests. It could be unwise to underestimate the combined lobbying influence that lot have in the corridors of power !