A few days prior to the commencement of the annual G20 Summit in Turkey, experts on diabetes urged world leaders to take a stand against this ballooning global health epidemic. Although similar rhetoric and subsequent calls to action are now commonplace, due to the rapid growth of obesity and diabetes in the United States and around the world, one proposed solution has generated an unusually substantial amount of controversy: a sugar tax. While it is no secret that frequent consumption of sugary foods and beverages and the increasing popularity of such items have played a role in the recent spike in diabetes diagnoses, the proposition of placing a tax on such sugary products as a way to cure to this public health crisis has been met with spirited debate.
Critics claim that a sugar tax would be regressive and unfair, placing the biggest burden on low-income families who have less disposable income and would have to pay more for their usual food items. Not surprisingly, many people in the food industry oppose the tax as well. Most recently, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron lashed out strongly against a sugar tax despite the results of a poll revealing that more than 50 percent of British voters support such a measure.
However, what critics fail to comprehend is that a sugar tax is only meant to serve as a mechanism to impact the purchasing habits of lower class families who are at higher risk of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. It only makes sense that if sugar-laden food and beverages become more expensive and therefore more cumbersome on people’s wallets, those same individuals will be more likely to seek out cheaper, healthier alternatives. The logic of a sugar tax lies in its power to encourage better dietary choices through the financial self-interest of consumers, especially those living paycheck to paycheck on highly restricted budgets. Although it is foolish to think that candy bars and sodas are the sole cause of diabetes, a tax on sugar does have the potential to abate what is arguably the most significant environmental contributor to this deadly condition.
In addition, this means of taxation avoids methods that some civil libertarians deem to be overly dogmatic and controlling, such as the strict limits Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, attempted to place to limit the size of sodas that merchants could legally sell to consumers. Freedom is a coveted ideal that remains strong at the very core of our nation and as such, when this sacred doctrine is perceived to be violated by more restrictions, there are bound to be feelings of indignation and a subsequent backlash.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of the sugar tax is that it would avoid directly infringing upon the autonomy of the American people by simply incentivizing them to make healthier choices. Ultimately, an individual’s freedom to purchase whatever foods can be found on grocers’ shelves will remain untouched and without draconian regulations.
Although new taxes are largely unpopular among the people, we must still thoughtfully evaluate the long-term benefits of a healthier society against the cost of paying slightly more for unhealthy food and beverages. In terms of cost-benefit analysis, it is clear that a sugar tax is in the best interest of the community as a whole. Not only does the tax deter consumers from unhealthy choices, but taxes in general are also an investment in our country and in our collective future. Whether for the construction of new roads or the funding of local services, citizens pay taxes to make their surroundings more livable, enjoyable and safe. This begs the question of whether being a society concerned with the good health of its members is a noble endeavor worthy of serious consideration and support.
Matthew Brotz is a sophomore majoring in philosophy.
Featured image courtesy Pixabay user WerbeFabrik