A sugar tax similar to the one recently introduced in the UK is unlikely to improve public health, claims a new report.
The Health of the State report, published today by business group the New Zealand Initiative, argues that regulations designed to combat our obesity crisis would have an adverse effect on the population's freedom of choice.
"There is little robust evidence to suggest these policies are actually changing behaviour in the way they are meant to," says Dr Oliver Hartwich, New Zealand Initiative executive director.
"What we are seeing nowadays goes far beyond old-fashioned paternalism. Whether it is salt, fat, or sugar, there is hardly a food ingredient around where there are no discussions about potential regulations, taxes, or even bans."
The report is authored by the group's policy analyst Jenesa Jeram. It uses an economic framework to argue for the importance of 'consumer sovereignty', citing case studies on e-cigarettes, sugar taxes and alcohol.
The New Zealand Initiative, which describes itself as an evidence-based think tank and research institute, says informing people about the risks of an unhealthy diet would be more effective than regulation.
"There are no silver bullets out there. If you really care about obesity and nutrition, and also respect people's right to choose for themselves, alternatives like education can ensure that people make informed choices, even if those choices might not always be what a nutritionist would recommend," says Dr Hartwich.
"Each new regulation, harmless as it may seem, is a step on a slippery slope. What today mainly affects food and beverages could soon be something that applies to cars, clothing or our leisure activities."
Following the UK's announcement of a sugar tax on the soft drinks industry in March, New Zealand Health Minister Jonathan Coleman stated the Government is not "actively considering" such regulation here.
More of the report's findings can be found on the New Zealand Initiative's website.