Tax is deeply addictive - without it government has to borrow. Morally justifiable taxes tend to be on addictive substances like alcohol (£12bn) and cigarettes (£6bn) - plus the VAT. So the ‘moral’ idea of a tax on sugar appeals. But it won’t stop people craving sugar.
A sugar tax is on the agenda, with soft drinks first in the queue. But why not just tax sugar at source, instead of picking winners and losers? In fairness, all sugars should be taxed at origin. These include imported cane sugar, homegrown beet sugar, honey, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrates, maple syrup and agave cactus. Even milk is 5% lactose. It is unrealistic to tax one sort of sugar and not another.
What difference would a sugar tax make? The 35g of sugar in a can of soda costs 1.4p. A 300% sugar tax would raise this to 5.6p. Big deal. To tax only soft drinks is a pinprick - there are plenty of other ways to consume sugar including fruit juices, smoothies, brownies, cookies, cake, sweets, chocolate bars, milk and ice cream. A serious tax on sugar would create a black market and trigger increased costs of dealing with smuggling and crime, as happens with fags and booze.
Sugar consumption isn’t the only cause of sugar addiction. Antibiotics kill off gut flora and clear the path for overgrowth of candida yeasts, which make us crave sugar. Caffeine increases the rate of metabolisation, causing low blood sugar and cravings for sweetness. Alcohol increases insulin output, which reduces blood sugar levels. Alcohol then inhibits the liver from producing glucose to top up those levels, so there’s a craving for sugar.
The only cure for sugar craving is lifestyle change and that’s happening already. In the US, diabetes is now in decline (coinciding with a big fall in sales of soda and certain fast food). There’s no sugar tax, Americans are just eating more healthily and exercising more. The Soil Association’s Lottery-backed Food For Life programme now dishes out two million healthy school dinners a day.
Kids get the message and learn moderation. The answer is not ‘tax, tax, tax’ but ‘education, education, education’.
Craig Sams is executive chairman of Carbon Gold and Gusto Organic and co-founder of Green & Black’s