Big Debate: Would a sugar tax benefit the consumer?

Public Health England wants the government to tax high-sugar products Picture: Anthony Devlin/ PA im

Public Health England wants the government to tax high-sugar products Picture: Anthony Devlin/ PA images - Credit: PA WIRE

This week’s Big Debate asks whether or not a tax should be brought in to combat obesity.

Left, Jennifer Alisbury-Jones and, right, Mayra Crean

Left, Jennifer Alisbury-Jones and, right, Mayra Crean - Credit: Archant

Public Health England found itself at odds with David Cameron after suggesting a sugar tax of 10-20 per cent be imposed on some products to combat obesity. Last week, the prime minister said he opposed it, but some feel the tax would help Newham, after the council found 27.5pc of 10-11-year-olds were obese in 2012/13, a fact that shaped 2015-18’s Young People Plan. This week we ask: “Would a sugar tax benefit the consumer?”

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Mayra Crean, Dental hygienist, Plaistow

I totally agree that there should be a sugar tax.

The sugar debate came to life in 1972 with the publication of John Yudkin’s Pure, White and Deadly.

The debate has raged ever since and we have been made aware of the link between sugar and dental decay but now there is mounting scientific evidence linking sugar to obesity, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Public Health England tells us that dental treatment under general anaesthesia for five to nine-year-olds presents a small but real risk of life-threatening complications for children.

And tooth extractions under general anaesthesia are costly – extracting multiple teeth from children in hospitals from 2011-2012 cost £673 per child with a total NHS cost of nearly £23million.

Newham is the third most deprived local authority in the country, with the most diverse population in the UK.

It suffers the highest mortality rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer compared to the rest of London.

And dental decay in five-year-old children remains the highest in England according to the Dental Health Scrutiny review.

Obesity runs at 20 per cent in the adult population and for schoolchildren in reception it is the fifth highest in England.

The World Health Organisation recommends we reduce our consumption of salt, trans-fat saturated fats and added sugar, because the consumption of such food is the cause of 14million deaths every year.

On a global level the use of sugar by the food and drinks industry can best be controlled by regulation, taxation and support for healthier diet alternatives.

Jennifer Salisbury-Jones, TaxPayers’ Alliance

Not only would a sugar tax not work, it would hit the poorest hardest, adding to the already massive weight of taxation on the lowest paid.

The poorest 10 per cent of households already pay of 45 per cent of their income in tax and are hit particularly hard by regressive “sin taxes”.

Can there be any justification for ramping up taxes on this already disproportionately burdened group?

When a similar levy was tried in Denmark it was an abject failure – it was economically damaging yet showed very little impact on the consumption of “unhealthy foods”.

And 80 per cent of Danes made no changes to their shopping habits and there was no measurable effect on obesity.

In the UK both overall calorie consumption and sugar consumption in particular have actually fallen since the early 90s.

If the aim of this tax is to improve the health of the British public then it is unclear what success it could possibly hope to have.

If it would not improve health then what is the purpose of such a tax?

For those advocating a sugar tax this is a moral mission to impose their notion of a good life on others.

This is a case of people calling for the government to intervene in your kitchen and living room because they claim to know what is good for you.

It is patronising and nannying to the core.

The UK has no need of a sugar tax and would not benefit from one.

Such taxes make the poor poorer, but they do not make them healthier.

Those arguing for an increase of the burden of taxation on those least able to pay should abandon the ideas of this regressive and damaging tax.