No good reason for a sugar tax in New Zealand

Eric Crampton counters the troughers pushing for sugar taxes:

To begin with, sugar taxes are offensive. They presume that some government official knows better than you about what food choices are best for you.

And when we think about how they’re generally aimed at things like soda rather than expensive coffee drinks, they’re also deeply classist.

They presume poor people are too dumb to make the ‘right’ choices and must be guided by their betters.  

The so-called scientists think they know best. And, if you disagree with them then they sue you. They don’t believe in freedoms; they believe in control.

But even if you were OK with that, there’s another problem.

Sugar taxes of 10 or 20 per cent – the range usually advocated – simply do not affect consumption very much.

Everybody talks about how tobacco taxes have cut tobacco consumption, but let’s be realistic.

The tax on a single cigarette stick is $0.83. The cheapest cigarettes I can find online are Easy Reds, at $19.90 for a pack of 20.

Each of those then has 17 cents of tobacco, and 83 cents of excise. That isn’t a 10 or 20 per cent tax.

The tax is almost five times the price of the tobacco. It’s the equivalent of a 488 per cent tax.

Astonishing… and it shows how misleading the health busybodies are in pushing their agenda without a shred of evidence.

Even if the government taxed sugar as heavily as it taxes tobacco, there is still another problem.

Until vaping, if you wanted nicotine, you had to buy cigarettes.

But there are all kinds of tasty and potentially unhealthy things out there that people could shift to if there were a tax on sugar.

The effects of tax on health would then be much smaller than you might think from a naive estimation from any reduction in sugar consumption. If people flip from chocolate bars to crisps, are they really that much healthier?

Nope, but if we switch then the health troughers will set up committees, seek massive government funding and then start campaigning and lobbying for a crisp tax.

Unsurprisingly, in the real world, sugar taxes have not done much to improve health.

But don’t just take my word for it.

The Ministry of Health commissioned the NZIER (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research) to review the literature on sugar taxes around the world.

NZIER found little effect of sugar taxes on consumption, and no evidence of health benefits.

And documents released to the New Zealand Initiative by the Ministry of Health showed that the ministry had reached a very similar conclusion about sugar taxes, advising the minister that there is “insufficient evidence that a sugar tax would be effective in reducing obesity”.

The ministry also warned that the quality of evidence presented in favour of sugar taxes “is a major concern”.

All of that means that, even if sugar taxes were easy to implement (and they are far from easy to implement), there would still be no good reason to do it.

It is time that public health activists simply admitted that they got this one wrong and left us alone.

And stopped suing people who pointed this all out to them. Never mind; a court case will establish the truth of the matter and three health professionals will have their reputations shredded forever.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.