Saturday 4 February 2012

No slippery slopes

The case for taxing sugar builds explicitly on the work done in the anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol public health movements. Here's the latest from Nature.
How can we reduce sugar consumption? After all, sugar is natural. Sugar is a nutrient. Sugar is pleasure. So too is alcohol, but in both cases, too much of a good thing is toxic. It may be helpful to look to the many generations of international experience with alcohol and tobacco to find models that work 8,9. So far, evidence shows that individually focused approaches, such as school-based interventions that teach children about diet and exercise, demonstrate little efficacy. Conversely, for both alcohol and tobacco, there is robust evidence that gentle ‘supply side’ control strategies which stop far short of all-out prohibition — taxation, distribution controls, age limits — lower both consumption of the product and the accompanying health harms. Successful interventions share a common end-point: curbing availability 2,8,9.

Taxing alcohol and tobacco products — in the form of special excise duties, value-added taxes and sales taxes — are the most popular and effective ways to reduce smoking and drinking, and in turn, substance abuse and related harms 2. Consequently, we propose adding taxes to processed foods that contain any form of added sugars. ...

Other successful tobacco- and alcohol-control strategies limit availability, such as reducing the hours that retailers are open, controlling the location and density of retail markets and limiting who can legally purchase the products 2,9. A reasonable parallel for sugar would tighten licensing requirements on vending machines and snack bars that sell sugary products in schools and workplaces. Many schools have removed unhealthy fizzy drinks and candy from vending machines, but often replaced them with juice and sports drinks, which also contain added sugar. States could apply zoning ordinances to control the number of fast-food outlets and convenience stores in low-income communities, and especially around schools, while providing incentives for the establishment of grocery stores and farmer’s markets. ...

Government-imposed regulations on the marketing of alcohol to young people have been quite effective, but there is no such approach to sugar-laden products...

With enough clamour for change, tectonic shifts in policy become possible. Take, for instance, bans on smoking in public places and the use of designated drivers, not to mention airbags in cars and condom dispensers in public bathrooms. These simple measures — which have all been on the battleground of American politics — are now taken for granted as essential tools for our public health and well-being. It’s time to turn our attention to sugar.
And who's next in line after sugar? Remember that the anti-tobacco folks disarmed opposition in the 90s by insisting that there was no next in line.
"They use the 'slippery slope' argument. 'My God, if they can do this to smokers today they can do this to people who eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream or whatever."
I think it's safer to assume that there's no logical end to the line. Every behaviour has health consequences, and if there's a public health system, somebody will say regulation's warranted.

There's a good case to be made for abolishing the combination of American agricultural subsidies and sugar tariffs that together result in substitution from sugar to fructose, but the case for that would be independent of nutritional qualities of fructose and sucrose. There may be a case for changes to USDA nutritional recommendations. But let's not forget that it was the USDA's war on fat that helped prompt the shift to high-carb and higher fructose diets in the first place.


  1. look its late at night Eric, and I have found a market which will sell in Christchurch, Jesus Christ this is hard here in Christchurch Eric, its hard all the time and I am standing in the queue to get out out, and in front of me is a woman who buys white bread and coka cola. This is the front face,

  2. And the opposite of taxing sugar, alcohol and good drugs is not taxing cabbage and tomatoes.
    But as Will Rogers said
    "its good we don't get our money's worth from Government, imagine if these people were efficient at making our lives miserable"

  3. On the contrarty Peterquixote, the state appears to be very efficient at making our lives miserable!

    The production of misery is a totalitarian industry.