Intended for healthcare professionals

Views And Reviews

“Sin taxes”—the language is wrong, but the evidence is clear

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 11 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4616
  1. Adam Briggs, public health specialty registrar
  1. Health Foundation, London
  1. adam.briggs{at}
    Follow Adam on Twitter: @ADMBriggs

Last week Boris Johnson suggested that a good way to revamp politics after Brexit would be to base “tax policy on clear evidence.”1

He was referring to what he describes as “stealth sin taxes”—taxes on unhealthy food and drink currently exemplified by the soft drink industry levy—and pledged a review into their effectiveness. Aside from any of the potential politics or conflicts of interest underlying these claims, sugary drink taxes are an important piece of any evidence based public health policy.

We all know about the obesity crisis: over a third of 10-11 year olds and two thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese,2 at an estimated cost to the NHS of £6bn (€6.67bn; $7.47bn) in 2014.3 Reversing this crisis is hugely challenging. Crudely speaking, weight gain is caused by eating too much and moving too little, but our diet and activity levels are heavily influenced by social, environmental, and economic conditions,4 as well as the interplay between these and our genetics5 and our physical and mental health. Hence, my colleagues at the Health Foundation have called for cross government action and investment6 on the wider determinants that …

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