10 reasons why the Sugar Tax is a
terrible idea

First they came for the smokers. Then they came for drinkers. Now the ‘public health’ lobbyists are turning their sights on bacon and sugar.

Jamie Oliver’s campaign to stick a twenty percent tax on sugary drinks and snacks has gained an alarming momentum over the last few weeks. Boris Johnson is said to be in favour.

Public Health England recently gave its support to the measures in a controversial report on ‘sugar addiction’. The British Medical Association endorsed a sugar tax earlier this year.

I happen to quite like Jamie Oliver, despite his frequent lapses into self-righteous food-prophet mode. He’s a decent chef and no kitchen is complete without at least one of his cookbooks. Plus he’s a eurosceptic, so he can’t be all bad! But I’m not at all convinced about the need for a sugar tax.

We do not need the government telling us what we can and cannot eat. Frankly, I’d rather risk a fatal heart attack and be free to make my own choices. It’s time to get the state off our dinner plate. Here are ten reasons why the sugar tax ought leave a bad taste in your mouth.

1. It doesn’t work

Similar measures tried elsewhere in Europe have failed miserably. Denmark introduced a tax on saturated fat in 2011, but abandoned it after fifteen months. The tax was blamed for the loss of 1300 jobs. The evidence suggests the vast majority of Danes did not change their shopping habits.

Rule number one of good public policy – make sure it actually works before you implement it.

2. It would hit the poorest hardest

People with less money spend a higher proportion of their incomes on food and drink. The poorest twenty percent of British households already spend an average of £1200 a year on ‘sin taxes’ – one pound in every eight they spend. The bottom fifth spend twice as much (as a proportion of their income) as the richest fifth on these taxes. Indirect taxes push up the cost of living dramatically.

Want to help the poor? Stop taxing them.

3. It’s the wrong solution to the wrong problem

Average British sugar consumption has fallen by seven and a half percent since 2002. Calorie consumption has fallen since the mid 1970s. Yet the average person’s body weight has increased over time. How is this possible? The answer is that we are not getting enough exercise. We are walking less, cycling less, and taking less physical activity in general.

Want to get healthy? Don’t support a sugar tax. Join the gym or go for a run instead.

4. People all over the world are healthier than ever before

It’s indisputable that, on the whole, we are living longer lives than our parents and grandparents. People are also living healthier lives long into old age, thanks to better medicine and technology, healthier diets, exercise and keeping the brain active. In Britain, life expectancy is 79 for men and 82 for women (though this varies by region). Fewer people die of strokes or heart attacks.

5. Sugar is not “the new tobacco”

Public health campaigners are obsessed with labelling things they want to tax or ban as “the new tobacco”. Having successfully taxed and outlawed smoking in pubs, they campaigned for plain packaging and minimum prices for alcohol. For a while, salt was the new obsession. Then fatty foods were in the spotlight. Then e-cigarettes, which actually help people to quit smoking. Now sugar is “the new tobacco”.

None of these things are remotely similar. Sugar won’t give you cancer. A reasonable amount of fat is part of a balanced diet. The only thing they have in common is the tut-tutting of killjoys. The “tobacco” excuse is just that: an excuse to extend the crusade to something new and tasty.

6. It is part of a wider agenda of control

In the pre-WWI era, the state barely intruded on the lives of most Englishmen. Things have changed a bit since then. The ‘public health’ lobby existed long before they got onto sugar, and will exist long after sugar has been taxed out of existence.

What next. A tax on your morning coffee, perhaps?

7. We already have a tax on sugar and other junk foods

It’s called Value Added Tax. VAT is not charged on raw meat, fish, vegetables and a whole range of other healthy foods. Many drinks and snacks – crisps, takeaways, ice cream, but not (bizarrely) cakes – are charged at the standard rate of twenty percent.

A new tax on sugary drinks and snacks would mean taxing consumers twice for the same item.

8. It denies individual choice and responsibility

Supporters of sin taxes see themselves as moral crusaders, saving poor ignorant families from their own terrible health choices. This is a deeply disturbing attitude, even if it is advanced under the best of intentions. It implies that the little people do not know what is good for them, so the benevolent public health crusaders will decide on their behalf.

We are to be steadily deprived of the freedom to choose what we put on our own desert plates. For our own good, of course.

9. The whole process is fundamentally undemocratic

Here’s how you get a new tax imposed. First you create a lobby group with a few self-appointed ‘experts’. Then you dig up all manner of research – much of it contradictory – to justify what you’re doing in the name of improving ‘public health’. Demands for new regulations and taxes increasingly come from groups such as Action on Sugar (AS), Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), or Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) – which have no connection to the wider public.

To paraphrase the late Tony Benn: Who are these people and how can we get rid of them?

10. The public health lobby are deeply sinister

There is little evidence to suggest playing God with the food supply does much to improve public health. Their actions make little sense in that context. Yet they carry on regardless because their agenda is all about control and ‘denormalising’ perfectly ordinary pleasures.

Dogmatic and ideological. Wedded to big-state solutions like taxes, bans and over-regulation. Able to impose their will over that of the people. Contemptuous of the notion that people are free to make their own choices. The public health lobby are a public menace.


Chris has been a member of the Conservative Party since 2010. He believes strongly in individual freedom, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets to eliminate poverty by encouraging wealth creation. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmanby1989

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty