The revenues collected by taxing luxury foods could be put to good use to fund obesity research and educate the general public about healthy eating habits.
Does this sound like a scenario from George Orwell's 1984, with Big Brother watching you as you chew a sweetie or down a fizzy drink? Well, consider how other "sins", like smoking and alcohol, are being taxed and such a scenario isn't as far-fetched as it seems.
The obesity epidemic
Obesity is assuming epidemic proportions all over the developed world. Recent statistics show that 750 million people worldwide are overweight, out of which 300 million are obese.
Something clearly needs to be done to combat this ever-increasing rise in obesity before the entire world is overweight.
A study conducted by Yale University in the USA proposed that by levying a one-cent tax on snack foods, vast amounts of money could be made available for research and education to address the worldwide obesity epidemic.
The eminent researchers calculated that the US Treasury would be able to raise $1.8 billion per annum with a snack tax. The breakdown of where the income would be coming from is fascinating, because it gives a clear indication of which foods are consumed in the greatest quantities: $1.5 billion from cold drinks; $70 million from candy or sweets, $54 million from chips and $190 million from other snack-type foods.
It would appear that cold drinks are by far the greatest contributors to weight gain in the USA, followed by candy, sweets and chocolates.
These figures are mindboggling and one can imagine that the South African Revenue Services would love to get their hands on such sums.
Will it happen?
Most people would regard such a snack tax as far-fetched. But seeing that the doors have been opened for taxing other "sinful" habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol, it would be surprising if governments around the world didn't latch on to such an easy way of making extra money.
And you, as the consumer, would after all not feel that initial one-cent increase in the price of cold drinks, chocolates, sweets, chips, hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, etc.
The danger is of course that governments wouldn't stop at one cent per item. Once the money comes rolling in, they would be tempted to increase their tax every now and then, and eventually we would be paying 10-50c per item in sin tax.
Because this type of money gathering is highly attractive to governments and as it can be rationalised in similar fashion to taxes on smoking and alcohol, we might be paying tax on our little weaknesses like chocs and chips one of these days.
- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated July 2009)