Do taxes on certain foods really work to decrease obesity levels? Real-life models are proving this hard to stomach. For one, the Danish tax on saturated fat was abolished last November, and the Hungarian tax on salt, sugar and energy drinks is producing undesired effects. For example, Hungarians are simply buying cheaper snack foods, rather than switching to healthier products.
The discussion of such a tax is also big in Germany. The German Ministry of Consumer Affairs recognises the need to combat obesity, but Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner considers a tax on foods to be the wrong approach. It ‘doesn’t change consumer behaviour, but simply bolsters government treasuries,’ says a statement issued by the Ministry. A much better approach would be to increase the access to information through initiatives such as clearer labelling mechanisms.
The food industry agrees, and states that not only would the tax harm low-income households more than others, but that citizens need ‘better education, rather than just state-nannying’ to motivate them to change their eating habits.
The full article is available here.
Governments feel the need to intervene when it comes to increasing obesity rates, shown by the attempt to ban the sale of large soft drinks in New York, or the proposal for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sweetened beverages in California.
But economist Michael Marlow sees two issues with these ‘paternalistic public-health initiatives’:
- They aren’t grounded in data or compelling economic models
- They might ‘catalyse a dismal chain reaction, with escalating government intrusions on personal freedom’
Marlow critically examines 2 studies from 2010 and 2012 which endorse a tax on soft drinks, and highlights why these studies are not enough to prove a tax would be effective. Regarding consumer behaviour, Marlow is skeptical. People who crave sweet food will find a way to circumvent the tax, simply opt for fruit juice, or if the tax is low enough, just pay the price. In fact, he argues that ‘when new taxes are imposed and escalated with no measurable impact or end in sight, consumers know that the tax is nonsense’.
The idea of a ‘nanny-state’ falls short in Marlow’s eyes, as governments have no business in trying to alter behaviour for people’s own good. If authorities are so adamant about battling obesity, they should be encouraging private initiatives around exercise and dieting, concludes Marlow.
The whole article is available here.
Daily Mail journalist Simon Heffer considers the idea of ‘state-nannying’ outrageous, as it not only ‘endangers our liberties, [but] undermines our self-respect.’
Governments are becoming increasingly more intrusive into our personal behaviour, particularly when it comes to our health. This intrusion has manifested itself in many ways, seen particularly in the attempts to set national standards for eating, drinking, smoking, driving, exercising and even going on school trips.
These paternalistic measures and initiatives are not what governments should be elected for, Heffer argues. Their job is to keep the country running, ‘preferably as cheaply and as efficiently as possible,’ rather than impose its views on how people should be living their live.
The entire article is available here.