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Ireland considers sugar tax in move to quell obesity

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The man who wants the Irish to be taxed
for drinking sugar
Irish Health Minister Dr James O'Reilly has concocted a new austerity measure for Ireland: this time taxing consumers for purchasing sugar laden soft beverages (soda), in a bid to stem rising rates of obesity and diabetes in Ireland.

The proposals are similar to ones currently in effect in New York, which have apparently had a marked effect on reducing consumption of trans-fat containing fast-foods, as well as other unhealthy items.

The New York laws follow a raft of legislation introduced by Albany lawmakers intended to curb soaring levels of obesity and diseases directly linked to diet, according to the Irish Independent, though the Irish health minister O'Reilly may have a harder time convincing the Irish to adopt the measures given the dozens of other new taxes currently doing the rounds.

By all reports the plans are serious, though. The Minister and his team are reported to have made contact with Mayor Bloomberg's office to see how the New York lessons could be best transplanted to Ireland, and a spokesperson for the minister today confirmed that: "The introduction of a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened drinks was identified as a strategy for consideration and the feasibility of introducing such a measure is being examined."

The moves are actually part of a broader tackle the health ministry is making on unhealthy food items.

Labeling in particular is also being given a thorough investigation. Putting it rather bluntly, the Minister said of mis-labelers that they: “need to get their act together or we will be coming”.

The sugar move, in particular, though, has already drawn its critics.

Contributors on the ever-popular George Hook chat show this afternoon pointed out that such a tax would have a disproportionately negative effect on lower income earners - hardly the prescription Ireland was looking for given that many of that category are barely managing to survive from day to day. The rationale, apparently, being that lower socio-economic groups consume unhealthier, and more sugar-loaded, products. Whether this is actually true or not I have no idea.

My personal take on the whole thing: it strikes me not only as a largely punitive tax, but also as a totally unnecessary one.

Healthy living is preached as dogma in modern society, and there's a strong enough emphasis in Ireland on choosing healthy foods and drinking water rather than sugary beverages.

It's true that there are still plenty of Coca Cola chuggers to go around (this blogger is a reformed one), but perhaps the link between sugar consumption, diabetes and cancer is less clear cut than is being made out?

There are plenty of other reasons why modern Ireland is unhealthier, and getting, to put it crudely, fatter, than previous ones: sedentary lifestyles, greater use of cars, etc: sugar alone is probably not the major player in all of this, and to imagine that it is, as a disingenuous way of seemingly raising tax for the 'benefit' of the population, is trickery and mind-playing at best.

Vices that are commonly taxed to discourage over-consumption include tobacco and alcohol: surely it's going to far to say that fizzy sodas fall into that same bracket?

One contributor on the George Hook show put the argument against the tax best though with the following rhetorical : should we start taxing Playstations now?

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