French soda tax: Le Figaro columnist argues against “Nanny State measures”

French soda tax: Le Figaro columnist argues against “Nanny State measures”

As the French Parliament is currently debating whether to reshape and increase the tax on soft drinks, an opinion piece published on 9 November in the French newspaper Le Figaro warns readers about the effects of an increase of the current soda tax in place in France.

Bill Wirtz, analyst for European Students for Liberty, argues that such a move would be another Nanny State measure that would penalize the poorest French households, as confirmed by the French Health Minister Buzyn in interviews early October before the proposal was introduced by an MP in the National Assembly.

Wirtz underlines that such taxes may have unintended consequences, such as substitution towards cheaper products containing the same amount of sugar. He also refers to the tax introduced in Denmark which was abolished 15 months later by the government that introduced it for lack of concrete public health results.

The opinion piece can be found in Le Figaro here.

WHO Europe paper on pricing policies to promote healthier diets miss

WHO Europe paper on pricing policies to promote healthier diets miss

On 23 March 2015, WHO Europe released a paper called “Using price policies to promote healthier diets“.

Although the paper acknowledges that broader effects of HFSS taxes, such as product substitution, the impact on health inequalities and on overall diet, should be very carefully taken in consideration for designing a tax, it largely supports fiscal measures and concludes that taxes can be effective. The saturated fat tax in Denmark, the sweets tax in Finland and the product health tax in Hungary and the tax on sugar and non sugar-sweetened beverages in France are among the examples reviewed and are described to have provoked reductions in consumption, among other positive effects.

However, WHO Europe has not included the latest findings of the study ‘Food taxes and their impact on competitiveness in the agri-food sector’, commissioned by the European Commission. It found that food taxes in general achieve a reduction in the consumption of the taxed products and as a result, consumers may instead purchase similar non-taxed or less heavily taxed items. It also shows that consumers may simply buy cheaper brands of the taxed products, thus potentially not lowering their consumption of the ingredient the tax aims to target (i.e. salt, sugar or fat). Equally, consumers may be able to buy other products with similar levels of sugar, salt or fat to those that are taxed. The full European Commission study can be downloaded here.

Taxing food and drink is regressive and places stress on the least well-off members of society who spend a greater percentage of their income on the weekly shop. Obesity is a complex problem, and cannot be attributed to just one product.  Information and education, not tax, is the way to teach people how to eat balanced diets and lead healthy, active lifestyles.

The full WHO Europe report can be read here.

France’s Les Echos: “Food taxation should not be a punitive tool”

France’s Les Echos: “Food taxation should not be a punitive tool”

Who has not heard of the Nutella tax? An amendment to the 2013 French budget law foresaw an increased levy on palm oil that received the nickname “Nutella Tax”. After being voted in the Senate, it was postponed pending adoption of a draft public health law.
Based on unfounded allegations about the dangers of palm oil for health (cardiovascular risks, obesity) and the environment (worsening deforestation), the tax would have increased by 300% the levy on this single ingredient, widely used in the food industry. The tax on palm oil (€ 300 / ton) would have brought 40 million euros to the state coffers, whilst penalizing businesses and French consumers, the real victims of the proposal.

Behavioral taxation too often moves away from what is clearly established by science. The use of food taxation to promote public health objectives has so far lead to uncertain results.Taxes on sodas exist since the 1920s in the United States, but they have not yet had the expected impact on obesity and overweight.

The fact remains that education and dissemination of accurate information must be the basis of a reasoned and reasonable behavior, sense of responsibility and personal commitment to limiting excesses or addictions. Faced with a fair and consistent tax, a taxpayer may be an empowered consumer, do not treat citizens as outsiders. Taxation should not be a punitive tool!


The full article can be read here.

Molinari Institute Report – Nutrition taxes: a broken tool in public health policy

Molinari Institute Report – Nutrition taxes: a broken tool in public health policy

Recent reports by French senators Yves Daudigny and Catherine Deroche and by Professor Serge Hercberg highlight the public health problems (cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer) linked to expanding waistlines. The Hercberg report also notes that, since France’s National Nutrition and Health Programme was launched in 2000, it has not halted rises in excess weight, diabetes or hypertension. The solutions suggested in both reports are based on three lines of analysis: (a) the social cost of excess weight; (b) irrational behaviour by consumers; and, to a lesser degree, (c) social inequalities in health. Instituting new taxes on foods targeted for lower consumption would be the main remedy. Subsidies (financed by these levies) for healthful foods would provide new incentives to encourage their consumption. Nevertheless, both reports note that poor nutrition and its consequences are a complex problem that calls for an entire set of solutions, though they mostly favour tax measures. These are not a panacea, however: their effects on changes in dietary habits are often uncertain, making it hard to pursue the stated goals.


The impact of taxes in reducing the consumption of nutritionally poor foods is uncertain.

While the goals may be laudable (though this is questionable), there is a major risk of applying additional constraints on economic activity without getting the expected public health benefits (in particular, improved results from France’s National Nutrition and Health Program) while nurturing a dynamic of government interventionism that is making French society more sclerotic.  Experts and public authorities tend to depict a black‐and‐white situation, whereas reality is far more complex. Excess weight and the pathologies it leads to are a relatively recent problem in the history of humankind. We still lack the full knowledge that could guarantee an adequate solution.

Although nutrition taxes may appear to provide a response, it is important to understand their limits, especially in terms of a rational approach to avoidance, because the economic costs of these taxes are high in the long run. We should not delude ourselves. In this time of strained public finances, an ulterior motive in the renewed interest in this type of levy is to generate more tax receipts. There are many precedents. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ended the prohibition of alcohol in the United States to boost tax revenues. Due to the Great Depression, Congress had an urgent need for financing, and the best way to get it was to institute taxes on alcohol.

It is always preferable to change the context in which individuals make decisions so that they internalise the externalities they create. In this regard, obesity imposes few or no externalities if individuals bear its costs. We must therefore make sure that incentives for reducing obe‐
sity are in place. Nutrition taxes, by imposing the theoretical frame work of caloric imbalance, would limit the emergence of new ideas that could help reduce excess weight. In the end, we need to show a degree of humility toward the social and biological process. Western society, open and based on free enterprise, dates back only to the late 18th century. It is possible that the human body, after many thousands of years of survival in penury, has not yet adjusted to the abundance generated by capitalism.


To read the full report, please follow this link




Les taxes dites « comportementales » présentent de nombreux écueils, selon une nouvelle étude de l’Institut économique Molinari (IEM)

Les taxes dites « comportementales » présentent de nombreux écueils, selon une nouvelle étude de l’Institut économique Molinari (IEM)

Paris, le jeudi 30 janvier 2014 – Sous prétexte de changer les habitudes de consommation, nombre de nouvelles taxes ont déjà été proposées : taxe sur le gras au Danemark, taxe « Nutella » et taxe « sodas » en France, etc.


Si taxer les « vices » est politiquement attrayant, une telle instrumentalisation de la fiscalité cause toutes sortes d’effets indésirables sans pour autant changer les modes de consommation.


Pas d’amélioration pour les finances publiques


L’argument de l’existence de « coûts sociaux » liés aux comportements à vices, estimés à plusieurs dizaines de milliards d’euros, est avancé suggérant que leur suppression permettrait d’assainir les finances publiques.


Cette idée ne résiste pas à une analyse globale de la question, en particulier si on constate que les personnes s’adonnant à leurs « vices » (tabac, alcool, obésité, etc.) ont malheureusement une espérance de vie moins élevée que les autres.


Ces dernières – par leur mode de vie plus sain – occasionnent de fait des coûts supplémentaires aussi bien en matière de santé que de retraites. Or, ces coûts supplémentaires pourraient contrebalancer voire dépasser les surcoûts générés par les consommateurs de produits « viciés » et empêcher ainsi l’amélioration des finances publiques.


Des études débouchent ainsi sur les résultats suivants :


  • Tabac : en l’absence de fumeurs, les coûts de santé auraient été plus élevés de 7% chez les hommes et de 4% chez les femmes (Pays-Bas).
  • Coûts de santé des personnes non fumeurs et non obèses : près de 28% de plus que ceux des fumeurs et 12% de plus que les personnes obèses (Pays-Bas).
  • Impact financier net du tabagisme : +0,32 dollars par paquet vendu, soit des « économies » pour les comptes publics, sans tenir compte des recettes fiscales liées au tabac (États-Unis).


Enfin, même s’il s’avérait que les vices pesait sur les comptes publics, la raison en est que les gouvernements, en imposant des régimes publics obligatoires notamment en santé, ont supprimé l’évaluation des risques (liés au tabac, à l’obésité, etc.).


Des effets inattendus en matière de santé publique


Si les ventes officielles du produit surtaxé sont susceptibles de baisser, les consommateurs tendent à lui substituer un autre produit tout aussi, voire plus nocif au détriment des objectifs sanitaires affichés par les pouvoirs publics.


Plusieurs études ont mis en évidence de tels effets indésirables :


  • Taxe sodas : effet minime ou inexistant en matière d’obésité, les enfants et adolescents se mettant notamment à consommer d’autres boissons caloriques moins chères (États-Unis).
  • Fat tax : effet de substitution par des achats transfrontaliers et des achats de produits moins chers souvent de moindre qualité (Danemark).
  • Taxes sur l’alcool : effet de substitution par des boissons moins chères et/ou plus fortes; substitution par d’autres drogues (cannabis).
  • Taxes sur le tabac : effet substitution par des cigarettes moins chères; consommation plus intense des cigarettes fumées (plus de nicotine ou de goudron absorbés par cigarette).


La cause du marché parallèle et du trafic illicite


Les taxes comportementales ouvrent automatiquement la voie au marché parallèle, que ce soit sous la forme d’achats transfrontaliers (cas de la fat tax au Danemark) ou d’achats « au noir » qui peuvent représenter 10% du marché de l’alcool au Royaume-Uni, et 20%, ou plus, du marché des cigarettes en France.


Ce n’est pas la nature du produit surtaxé en soi, ou le « vice », qui est à l’origine de la contrebande, mais la fiscalité qui en est la cause nécessaire et suffisante. La preuve en est que dès lors que des produits aussi ordinaires et « vertueux » que le sel (exemple de la gabelle en France) ou le savon (cas de l’Angleterre jusqu’à la moitié du 19ème siècle) sont fortement taxés, ils deviennent rapidement l’objet de contrebande, accompagnée de son lot de crimes, de corruption et de violence accrue.


Intitulée Les écueils de la fiscalité dite « comportementale », l’étude préparée par Valentin Petkantchin, chercheur associé à l’Institut économique Molinari, est disponible sur le site.