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19 February, 2004

Fat tax on burgers proposed

Whoa!  Someone has been reading my mind!

As I left the house this morning, I just happened to be thinking about the possibility/viability of people paying for medical services where their condition could be directly attributed to their lifestyle, rather than everyone paying to support the (knowingly) dangerous practices of others.
Smoking tobacco is dangerous. It is unreasonable to claim ignorance of that, yet people continue to smoke. That's their right, but I do feel that in doing so they, personally, should bear the cost of any medical treatment directly attributable to smoking. Obviously, it would be impractical to make a smoker pay for chemotherapy at the time it's required, so the only logical solution would be to tax the activities, to fund any future treatments. I'm too cynical to believe that the existing tax on tobacco products goes directly to the National Health Service (NHS) (rather, it's just a revenue stream for all Government activities), but I'll indulge a little idealism for once, in saying that it should.

Coincident with my train of thought, I see in the Guardian that a Government strategy unit is considering (not 'mooting', and certainly not 'mulling', which is a truly dreadful usage) the introduction of a 'fatty food tax' on, well, fatty foods such as burgers, cheese, crisps and whole milk. As with smokers, the obese and those with unnecessarily high cholesterol knowingly risk their health, yet those with healthier diets bear the costs of treatment for heart disease, etc.

Apparently VAT is already levied on many foods associated with obesity, such as fizzy drinks and ice cream, but burgers bought in supermarkets are exempt, as are foods high in saturated fats such as butter, hard cheeses and full-fat milk. One proposal is that VAT (17.5%) should be extended to these items, but personally I'd like to see the revenue 'ring fenced' for use by the NHS rather than, say, highways, and feel that a specific 'fat tax' would be more visible as a public reminder about the issue.

Lest this be seen as 'holier than thou' pontificating, I am directly affected by this: I eat a reasonable amount of cheese (primarily cheddar), regularly use a spread containing butter (not butter itself, but not a specifically low-cholesterol spread either), and drink a lot of full-fat milk - sometimes a pint (0.47l) per day.

Incidentally, yes, I really do think about things like public policy while I'm cycling!


If the government did not tie health insurance to employment through massive tax breaks to businesses who offer it, individuals would bear the full brunt of paying for their lifestyle (smoking, eating habits). Rather than add another layer of bureaucracy, remove the one that is causing the problem.

Posted by Michael Hussey at February 19, 2004 03:32 PM

I'm not sure I follow: which tier of bureaucracy should be removed?

If you mean private health insurance should be discouraged, I disagree. I feel that those who can afford to pay for treatment, or insurance, should do so, leaving NHS treatment for those who absolutely need state assistance.

Posted by NRT at February 19, 2004 11:30 PM
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