Should soft drinks be taxed?

Soda Cans

Anecdotally, we all know that obesity is on the rise in the world.

World Health Organisation projections indicate that globally in 2008:

  • approximately 1.5 billion adults (age 20+) were overweight;
  • of these, more than 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese.

NDP Leadership hopeful Dana Larsen recently proposed a tax on soft drinks to fight against this severe health emergency.  I think that his proposal regarding sugared drinks is an excellent start.  Soft drinks are linked to obesity.  But, obesity is caused by much more: a poor overall diet, and lack of exercise.

Personally, I find it hard to understand why, as a society, we choose to allow chips and candy to be less expensive than fresh produce, complex carbohydrates and lean meats.  If Canada is serious about tackling the obesity challenge, unhealthy food needs to be consumed less by Canadians than healthy food.

It seems entirely reasonable to me to tax food that is void of nutrition, full of chemicals, and that causes the catastrophes that come along with obesity.  In the same vein, we should be subsidising healthy foods full of nutrients and taste.

When a family chooses its food at the grocery store, it is wrong to make them choose between a $2.99 box of salty corn product, and a $5.99 bag of organic apples.  Let’s reverse the choice.

Opponents of this course of action will argue that taxing food eliminates consumer choice, and that eliminating consumer choice is bad.  They say that it is political suicide for a government to try and control every substance consumed by citizens.

Alcohol and tobacco are recognised as causing poor health and are both highly regulated.  The Canadian roots of alcohol regulation are in the temperance movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Alcoholism was not on course to give that generation a shorter lifespan then their parents.  Today, obesity is.

I am glad that food is getting traction in public discussion, and can’t wait to see the fruits of a meaty Food Policy in Canada.