Health & Wellbeing

Will taxing sugary soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco help the poor?

Will taxing sugary soft drinks...
Several new studies suggest taxes on unhealthy products will have broad benefits for low-income households
Several new studies suggest taxes on unhealthy products will have broad benefits for low-income households
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Several new studies suggest taxes on unhealthy products will have broad benefits for low-income households
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Several new studies suggest taxes on unhealthy products will have broad benefits for low-income households

A major study examining ways of stemming the rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) worldwide has concluded that taxes on unhealthy products such as sugary soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco would produce major health gains for the poorest members of society. This is contrary to the common argument that these "lifestyle taxes" would unfairly harm low-income households.

Composed of five separate papers, the special issue of The Lancet journal set out to investigate economic strategies to battle rising global rates of NCDs including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. The study was published ahead of the upcoming sugary drink tax set to be instituted in the United Kingdom this month.

"Taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains, and the evidence shows these can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society," says Rachel Nugent, Chair of The Lancet Taskforce on NCDs and economics.

The study's conclusions appear to disprove a commonly offered argument claiming that taxing unhealthy products will disproportionately harm the poor. The argument is that taxing tobacco, alcohol, or sugary beverages will unfairly hit low-income households and ultimately not change the behavior of individuals.

Examining data from 13 countries, evidence was found to suggest that high-income households consume much more alcohol, soft drinks and snacks, compared to low-income households. This means that taxes on these products would generate significantly more revenue from high-income segments of society.

The data also suggested that rising the prices of products does in fact change the behavior of lower-income households. As a case study, a sugary soft-drink tax in Mexico was cited in depth. In 2014, the country instituted a 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. After one year, the results showed a 12 percent overall reduction in purchases of taxed beverages, with a 17 percent decrease in lower-income households.

Looking at tobacco, one of the studies modeled the consequences of a 50 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, using a country like Lebanon that has a high-tobacco consumption rate as the example. The model estimated that twice as many poorer smokers would quit because of the price rise and a third of the tax generated would come from the richest quintile.

"The evidence suggests that concerns about higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and soft drinks harming the poor are overstated," says Nugent. "Some degree of taxation on tobacco is common in many countries, and while we are starting to see progress on alcohol taxes, there is much more governments should be doing – in both high and low income countries – to consider the careful introduction of taxes on other unhealthy products like soft drinks and snacks."

Despite proposals of sugar or soft drink taxes in the United States often being met with great debate, some cities have been experimenting with small scale tests, and early indications are offering successful results. Sweetened soft drink taxes in both Berkeley, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania have shown consumption rates decrease, especially in lower-income neighborhoods.

Critics of these kinds of soft drink taxes point out they are often arbitrary, taxing only some sugar-sweetened beverages but not other equally caloric or sweet drinks, such as fruit juices or flavored milks. Some studies have indeed found that people may switch to other sweetened beverages when soft drink taxes are introduced. The American Public Health Association has responded to these studies by suggesting there would be overall health benefits if a person did switch from a sugar-sweetened soft drink, to milk or fruit juice.

The new research was published in the journal The Lancet.

Source: George Institute for Global Health

11 comments
Brian M
'The American Public Health Association has responded ... by suggesting there would be overall health benefits if a person did switch from a sugar-sweetened soft drink, to milk or fruit juice.' Fruit drinks also have a low pH - so read tooth damage as it gets bathed in acid and later from the effects of sugar. So a double dental whammy!
Buellrider
Taxing that crap will only take more money out of the poor's pocket because they will still buy it. Taxing cigarettes hasn't stopped people from smoking, knowing it will kill you certainly does. When all these fast food joints have milk dispensers next to the soda dispensers you'll know that things are changing. In the military they had soda available but they always had milk dispensers so we could drink something besides pop all the time. When we go on vacation I get so sick of drinking soda because that is what is pushed everywhere you stop to eat and I think that is pathetic.
Wolf0579
You only hear an outcry in the media when something might affect the astronomically rising income of the .01% Sure, the poor will keep buying this crap, because it's advertised constantly, and they must be kept occupied with sugar or HFCS, and fed a constant stream of mindless entertainment, or they just might figure out who the real enemies of the poor are.
jshaw
I am so tired of people wanting to tax the economically stressed 'for their own good.' These tax-them-for-their-own people have, obviously, never been poor. Or it's been a long, long time since they were. Being poor is tough. Really tough. A grind that wears you down every day. I'm tired of the well-to-do living their comfortable lives shaking their fingers and clucking their tongues at them.
KungfuSteve
Most Western Obesity is due to Man-Altered (Hydrogenated) Fats/Oils, and way too much consumption of 60s human-tampered Wheat. Add to that the hormonal imbalance due to Soy Oils (labeled as Vegetable Oil) being put into everything... and you have 80% of the problem right there. High Fructose (non natural sugar) Syrups, cause a Diabetic spike... making people hungrier. And Phosphoric Acid in Cola's, travels in the body... eating Calcium from ones Bones (among other issues). Take away the TOXIC Man-Made / Chemical Garbage, and revert crops to the original Natural states... along with a change to the Horrible Train-Wreck of a Food-Pyramid (Wheat Focused due to Propaganda / Corruption)... and people will get back to decent health in quick time. However... thats not going to happen... because the Elite do not want a healthy, long living, slaver. To them, you are merely an expendable tool (Battery) to gain and strip wealth, work, and Entertainment from. Furthermore... The poor People resort to buying the lowest quality (highest in Toxicity + Lowest in real Natural Nutrients) ... because they are the only products they can afford. IE, Milk / Almond milk is MUCH more expensive than Soda. And typical "Fruit Juices" ?! Why bother with them! They are generally 90% Man-Made Sugar and water, and the rest is a combo of Cooked to Death (no nutritional value) fruit juices, some synthetic nutrients (mostly for shelf-life), and more chemical Toxicity in Coloring,Inverted Sugars, and Toxic Artificial Sugars. AND... they are more pricey. Does one really think you can feed Toxic chemicals and garbage to a population for centuries... and see no Ill effects?! Look to China, Japan, or Taiwan... and compare Mental Illnesses, Personality Disorders, Autism, Obesity Levels, Heart Disease / Artery Clogging, Gall Bladder removals, Auto-Immune issues, Allergies, Intellectual Capabilities, And visible Age Related appearances. The Avg. Asian (in their own Countries), tends to look anywhere from 10 to 20 yrs younger than the avg. Westerner. You wont see such problems in those places... and it has virtually Nothing to do with relative exercise, nor starvation. The Toxic Diet, pushed and Propaganda'd on to Lemming Public by the Morally Bankrupt... Is the REAL problem! The higher Taxes, are merely to make the Corrupted Ones even more wealthy, and powerful.
Pete0097
I agree with Kungfudave, get rid of the high fructose corn syrup (HFC) and all things get better. Ever wonder why homemade from scratch food tastes better? Ever wonder why those donuts at the stores look great but taste like cardboard? It is all due to processed foods, preservatives, and HFC. The food may spoil faster (that also means that you can actually digest it) and may cost a little more, but it is worth it. As far as poor people go, I see the crap that a lot of fat poor people buy and they have need of classes like Home-Ec in school for both boys AND girls.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Much grief is caused by normalization. While this is good for governments and insurance companies, it is awful for individuals. I was glad to see on this website, that the body mass index has been retired. On "Biggest Loser" you see people weighing hundreds of pounds losing a hundred pounds or more. Most people can't get 100 lbs. overweight no matter how hard they try. Some people have widely deviant BMIs when they are in peak condition. For the 50 lbs. of middle aged spread, the best thing you can do is omit wheat. (what poor people eat!).
Helios
Of course this study is simply recognizing that poor people can't afford to pay for the medical treatment necessary after a lifetime of the Western diet. The wealthy, as the study illustrates, outpace the poor in choosing sugar, smokes, and alcohol, but they can pay to be diabetic or have multiple heart surgeries and joint replacements. Why do both groups choose to purchase foods and make lifestyle choices that are bad for their health? I think it is one thing, self medicating. Comfort foods, nicotine, and alcohol are the means for making a happier life in these stressful times and now they'll take those small daily pleasures away from those who happen to be born to the wrong parents and politicians will pat themselves on the back for their humanitarian social engineering.
FerrisPoobah
Wolf0579, the wealthy are not the greatest enemy of the poor. It's not as if they are systematically exploiting the poor and taking their money. In fact, given their disproportionate tax burden (relative to total tax revenue, and relative to their share of the total income earned) the wealthy are actually providing most of the funding for the government programs that help the poor.
ljaques
Kungfusteve, I agree about almost everything on which you commented. But everyone's wrong to say to move to milk and juices when the people should be drinking clear, fresh water instead (and tap water is cheap). The problem is changing people's minds on that which they spend their money. If you tax sin foods, the poor =may= smarten up and buy less of them. Something which surprised me is that the top 1% of wage earners changes each year, and that the effect is not just in Western civilization, it's in every civilization in every creative field. See Price's Law and the Pareto distribution. Hear it from good old JBP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsRLVZTYpGo and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcEWRykSgwE and https://www.youtube.com. /watch?v=gaWxSF07xiA LOL Anyway, until old LBJ stepped in in the '60s, the bottom few percent changed every year, because wisdom can come with age and people rise a rung or three as they get older. Since the Wars on Poverty, Drugs, Terrorism, (and now Guns) are on, things are getting worse. I wish us all luck in the future, but too many people are working against human nature.