So, a sugary drinks levy. First of all, there may be unintended consequences. Could it open up a black market for Pepsi? It may sound weird, but not so long ago people went to French coastal towns like Calais on a ‘booze cruise’ to get cheaper wine or liquor. The same could happen with soft drinks.
Is it a Robin Hood-style attempt to punish the soft drinks industry? Not really, because most of the companies involved are conglomerates producing everything from soft drinks to bottled water. What they lose in revenues in one market they will gain in another.
The crux of the matter is that it’s a tax on the poor. As surprising as it may seem, Owen Jones is dead right on the subject. In his book Chavs he points out that products perceived as high-class aren’t taxed, while soft drinks and sugary cereals, which may be of equal nutritional value, are seen as low-class, and therefore fair game. The public health lobbyists won’t admit this. They give the self-righteous excuse that it is to fight obesity. Think of the children, they say.
But when you tax Coca-Cola or Irn-Bru you are saying to people they are too stupid to make their own decisions. Yes, it’s sugary and not very nutritious — but sometimes it’s quite enjoyable to have a sugar fix. It’s no different from drinking a glass of wine or a pint of beer. (Of course, the Budget has actually lowered the tax on beer — taxing beer is now akin to political suicide in Britain.)
So this is the difficulty with a sugar tax. It’s based on noble principles, but every policy has two sides — and a war on sugar, rather than combatting obesity, may just create more problems.