In 2014, NTUF wrote how the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraged governments around the world to hike tobacco taxes. They are at it again, this time recommending that countries boost taxes on sugary beverages.
American taxpayers will send at least $113 million in funding to the WHO for FY 2017. In return, the WHO will… demand they increase their taxes on low-income Americans?
If last week’s report is any indication, that is exactly what they will do. The WHO made the announcement last week in their “Fiscal policies for diet and the prevention of noncommunicable diseases” report; in typical bureaucratic fashion, the WHO determined that the best way to help Americans suffering from obesity is to punish them financially for engaging in disapproved behaviors.
A soda tax is a very regressive tax, just like other so-called “sin taxes” such as cigarette and alcohol taxes. Low-income Americans lose much more of their income to these kinds of taxes than higher-income Americans. They are often tied to some other proposal to soften the blow, such as Philadelphia’s proposed soda tax, which would have used the tax proceeds to improve education funding and reduce poverty. If political proposals were graded, “tax people out of poverty” would receive an F.
This alone makes the WHO’s recommendation a bad one. But would a tax on sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, and energy drinks even be effective at reducing obesity or diabetes? The answer: probably not.
One reason is that a soda tax is not a targeted tax; those who are at the greatest risk of diabetes and obesity are not hit any harder by the tax than those who are perfectly healthy and decide to treat themselves with a sugary drink.
Another reason is that people who might respond to a soda tax by avoiding soda will not necessarily turn to something healthier. They may switch instead to equally sugary and unhealthy juices to avoid the tax, which would, of course, accomplish nothing.
Finally, this is hardly the WHO’s first spin at trying to tax away the world’s problems, and its last attempts did not go well either. WHO supported cigarette taxes did not put a dent in smoking habits; people smoked the same amount, they just paid more for the “privilege” of doing so. There is no reason to expect that soda would be any different, as scientific studies, such as one performed by the Université de Bordeaux that found that sugar stimulated a greater high in rats than cocaine, have shown that sugar can be highly addictive as well.
The WHO has proven again that it is not well versed in tax policy. A soda tax will make nothing skinnier except the wallets of low-income Americans.