Not many people saw it coming. But the UK just announced a big bold tax on soda, as a major part of their childhood obesity strategy. Britain joins a growing number of other countries, like Mexico, with similar taxes on sugar and soda.
The role of government
Many people are skeptical that a tax is the right way to solve problems. To me that is a political question and this is not a political blog. Fact is, governments are already taxing and regulating other addictive and potentially harmful substances, like tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
It is clear that sugar has addictive qualities and excessive sugar intake, particularly from soda, drives our current epidemics of obesity, diabetes and other diseases. Maybe it is a bigger threat to public health than tobacco. Certainly for kids it is.
And so, people who feel that taxation and regulation is wrong for any drug – that’s a perfectly reasonable view. But if governments are supposed to tax and regulate things like tobacco, it should also use the same tools to protect our children from harm from sugar.
The fight is on
There are other tools – education, perhaps most importantly, and also regulation. But this is an important step.
I think this soda tax in the UK is a big bold move that has massive symbolic value. The fight is on and sugar is the new tobacco.
We’ve seen massive health gains in the last 50 years from people to a large degree giving up smoking in the developed world. The future health gains from reducing sugar consumption may be even more impressive.
The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been campaigning for this tax, here are a couple of reactions from him.