Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Everyone needs sugar - let's tax it!

An op-ed in the New Zealand Herald calls for a tax on sugar. Nothing special about that, but the article—written by one Tony Falkensteinuses so many of the neo-prohibitionist's rhetorical tricks that it should be regarded as a classic of the oeuvre.

It starts with the inevitable argumentum ad tobacco:

Remember the Marlboro man who rode across billboards, cigarette hanging from his lips? Remember Benson & Hedges, which sponsored the tennis, Rothmans which sponsored the cricket? - all brands promoting healthy living when the exact opposite was the truth.

Ignoring the fact that tobacco isn't essential to human life but sugar is, Falkenstein then draws a spurious comparison:

It took a tax to dramatically slow smoking addiction; a tax on sugar and fat products would do the same.

And let's have that parallel with tobacco again...

Thirty years ago nobody would have imagined that cigarette advertising would be banned, workplaces would be smoke free, and that cigarettes would attract an excise tax of 24c a cigarette.

Perhaps not, but thirty years ago there were people who warned that the anti-smoking campaign would set a template for food faddists, teetotallers and other puritans and cranks. This was always strongly denied, but it is now glaringly obvious that they were right.

We now have two newer addictions - sugar and fat.

These are not addictions, let alone "new" ones. Fat and sugar are essential to sustain life, hence the body naturally desires them.

These are the major cause of Diabetes 2

Hardly the "major cause". According to Diabetes UK, the causes of diabetes are many and varied:

You should ask your GP for a test for diabetes, if you:
  • are white and over 40 years old
  • are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic group and over 25 years old
  • have one or more of the following risk factors.

The risk factors

  • A close member of your family has Type 2 diabetes (parent or brother or sister).
  • You're overweight or if your waist is 31.5 inches or over for women; 35 inches or over for Asian men and 37 inches or over for white and black men.
  • You have high blood pressure or you've had a heart attack or a stroke.
  • You're a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome and you are overweight.
  • You've been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.
  • If you're a woman and you've had gestational diabetes.
  • You have severe mental health problems.

He continues:

Sugar is an addiction...

No. No, it isn't. a gentle weaning off the addiction will make it more manageable for consumers as well as giving manufacturers time to adjust the composition of their products.

The excise tax I propose would be 20 per cent on all products with more than 10 per cent sugar content.

Apples and mangos are 15% sugar. Bananas are more than 50% sugar. Are you sure you've though this through?

Each year the sugar content bar would reduce by 1 per cent , so that in seven years the 20 per cent tax would apply to all products with more than 4 per cent sugar,which is considered an acceptable level.

This would mean a sin tax on all fizzy drinks, of course. But it would also mean a sin tax on most fruits, all smoothies, all desserts and a good proportion of yoghurts. From taxing Marlboros to taxing grapes in thirty years. If this is not a slippery slope, what is?

Of course, the food industry is equated with Big Bad Tobacco.

The food and beverage industry, like the tobacco industry before it, can afford to outgun health spending for its own benefit.

And there is the usual appeal to the economy:

The country cannot afford the cost of diabetes, and a sugar tax will force the industry to adopt better standards, and consumers to reduce their addiction.

If the country cannot afford diabetes, how can it afford a Pigouvian tax levied to pay for diabetes? The idea, surely, is to be Pareto efficient?

And finally, the massive conflict of interest. Who is this Tony Falkenstein who wants a 20% tax on all sugary drinks?

Tony Falkenstein, ONZM, is chief executive of Just Water International.

Just Water International makes its money from selling water coolers. Fancy that!

Tony Falkenstein: Rent-seeking shill

(Thanks to Ross for bringing this article to my attention.)


Anonymous said...

Wow, I am really looking forward to the sugar free workplace. Will this mean I won't have to eat the ghastly, homemade birthday cake of the one I like least?

Frank said...

So, how many things are we now addicted to? A dozen, a score, a ton? Is there anything which we're not addicted to? Of course, the trouble is that Govts. of most persuasions will see this as an easy tax grab. No difference to consumption or health, just more more money for them.


Leg-iron said...

Is it his intention that we live on nothing but water? Which he alone supplies?

Oh well. The breathing tax can't be far away now.

SadButMadLad said...

Does Tony Falkenstein not realise that water is a poison? If you drink too much of it you die. I propose that we should tax it at very high rates to ensure that people don't buy too much of it and kill themselves. What a pillock.

Leg-iron said...

Taxing water won't work in Scotland. It drops out of the sky most days.

Angry Exile said...

The breathing tax can't be far away now.

And it's absolutely necessary to have a breathing tax. People are just as addicted to oxygen as they are to sugar. Nasty, evil stuff that people's bodies become literally dependent on from a very early age. Oh yes, the number of 'oxygen babies' born with a tragic dependency on the stuff via maternal exposure has grown enormously over the last century. Typical withdrawal symptoms include death, and have you seen what it does to iron? That's an essential part of our blood. All those kids with rusting arteries - won't someone think of the chiiiiiildren? It must be taxed and taxed heavily as soon as possible, with an eye to bringing in a ban on oxygen indoors and in public places within the next few years.

Bristolmoose said...

What about the potential savings to be made in the fire service?
Oxygen is one of the requirements for combustion, therefore eradicating it from our homes as suggested above would significantly cut down house fires, saving the fire service millions and leave them to do more important things like rescue kitties from trees.

This Falkenstein chap appears to be peddling Dihydrogen Monoxide, a compound of two highly flammable gasses, which he is supplying in very flimsy plastic bottles. Won't somebody think of the children?

George Speller said...

. . . and according to the EUSSR water doesn't even provide hydration . . . .