The man is a creature that almost invariably wants to succumb to some temptation. Be it something less of a grave crime, like sweetened beverages, or something more dangerous, like smoking weed, there is always an audience for nearly every product. In an attempt to curb consumption and use of things that are deemed harmful to individuals and society as a whole, governments strive to take action and prevent people from having such products at their disposal.
Prohibition is not always an option. Take sugary beverages, for instance. Who would consider banning soda? It is not nutritious, and studies suggest drinking it has a detrimental effect on health, but many people consume it simply because they enjoy it. In some countries, including the U.S., banishing Coke and similar products from the market would result in riots. Besides, unhealthy habits are a lucrative business, and there are many people that will not tolerate such initiatives.
Still, governments do care about what implications unhealthy behaviors may have. It is not only individuals themselves that are affected, but developing various health conditions as a result of indulging in alcohol, drugs or just lots of sugar is liable to lead to an increase in healthcare expenses.
One of the measures that are being taken in many countries all over the world is sin taxes. The idea is that the more it costs, the better, as fewer people will be able to buy it without considering whether this product is actually worth that much money. In addition, the government gets more revenue.
What countries have already adopted the practice?
The concept of a ‘sin tax’ implies charging taxes on a variety of harmful products, such as tobacco, sweetened beverages, alcohol, fast food, etc. The emergence of the term dates back to 1957, but the idea is much older: as early as in 1643, Britain began to charge special taxes on distilled spirits, which can be considered an early form of a sin tax.
Today, the UK still has sin taxes, and these are levied on sweetened beverages and tobacco. The same taxes apply in the UAE and 43 other countries. As to the United Arab Emirates, these vary depending on what product it is: for sugary drinks that are carbonated, it is 50%; for tobacco and energy drinks, the figure is even more impressive – 100%. Taxes of this kind are also used in Thailand, for instance.
Does it really work?
It remains unknown to what extent such measures are effective. Studies showed that increased consumption of sugar is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and other diseases as a result of obesity. However limited research in this particular field may be, there is evidence that sin taxes can be beneficial.
When Mexico introduced a sin tax on sugary drinks, obesity rates dropped by 5.5% in the first year, and then by 9.7% in the following year. It is a great result, given the extremely high rates of obesity in this country: over 70% of Mexicans have unhealthy BMIs and are either overweight or obese. In China, a sin tax levied on sweetened beverages resulted in a 3% drop in obesity and overweight rates.
There are people who do not approve of this kind of taxes: some of them point out that it only makes it more difficult for poor people to buy harmful products while the rich hardly see any difference; others take exception to it because of its name. Perhaps, it’s the very fact of introduction of a yet another tax that is a matter of concern. Whatever their reason for objecting to it, consumption and use of harmful products, including cannabis, alcohol, etc., is a major problem which calls for measures aimed at restricting access to them, and sin taxes can help do it.