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Bethan Davies

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Should there be a sugar tax?

In an attempt to combat the growing obesity epidemic, Mexico recently approved a sales tax on sugary drinks.
Could taxing sugar and other health damaging foods be an effective way to reduce our rapidly expanding waistlines? And if so, should other countries follow suit?
Is it reasonable to treat sugar and junk foods like other harmfull and addictive drugs such as tabacco and alcohol? Do they deserve such bad press or are we simply passing on the blame for our own inability to take responsibility for our health?
Would such a tax be effective anyway? Or would it simply be an infringement to our freedom of choice and another way for governments to make money?

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  • Jan 22 2014: How would such a tax work exactly?

    Simply taxing straight sugar won't work, as then it'll just get replaced with corn syrup, or if you're feeling sneaky, some more complex carbohydrate and an enzyme that makes it decompose into sugar over time (like a ripening banana) or whatnot.

    Fruits and vegetables contain an amount of sugar, native to the plant, no additives in sight. Do those need to be taxed as well? With genetically engineered plants getting more and more common, how long will it take for someone to figure out how to make the fruit grow with more sugar in it to begin with, thereby evading the tax without lowering sugar content?

    Honestly, it sounds like a practical impossibility, even if you do decide to hurt people's freedom in this manner.
    Tobbaco and alcohol are both partially restricted because A)they hurt people other then the user (second hand smoking and drunk driving mostly), and B)enforcement is much easier, as they're less ubiquitous then sugar.
    • Jan 23 2014: Thanks for joining the conversation. You make some great points.

      Enforcing a tax on sugar would never be straightforward. I would also hasten to add that I'm not implying that all sugar is inherently bad. Some sugars (In the form of complex carbohydrates such as those in fruits and vegetables) are in fact essential for good health. The last thing we would want is people dodging fruit and veg and taking a whole load of man made vitamin pills instead!

      The issue really needs to revolve around added sugars, especially those with proven health implications such as HFCS. Although I'm not sure where things like genetically modified fruit or added enzymes would fit into the equation. Possibly you're right and it's a practical impossibility, companies will always find ways to avoid taxes and restrictions on what they can sell. Is there a better alternative? Or are we fighting a losing battle?

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