Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tax cigarettes, aclohol and junk food til no-one buys them?

The National Preventative Health Taskforce has just publicly released its strategy "Australia: The Healthiest Country by 2020".

For probably the first time ever, life expectancy in Australia is getting shorter. Three of the biggest and most preventable killers are tobacco, alcohol and obesity. And high on the list of strategies for discouraging them are "economic policies and taxation systems", which I read (and newspapers are reporting) as "make them more expensive". Not very imaginative, but will it be effective?

For cigarettes, they suggest increasing taxes soon so a pack costs at least $20 and for alcohol, interestingly, creating a 'floor price' - not necessarily increasing the price of all alcohol, but ensuring there's no very cheap stuff. For junk food, they just talk about exploring taxation, incentives, subsidies etc to promote consumption of healthier foods.

Will this help much? Is there a better approach? Has the government reached the extent of what it can reasonably do in terms of banning, taxing, subsidising, promoting, and is the rest up to the community?

Pricing is clearly a factor but it seems to me that changing a culture of smoking and drinking is the big thing - is that something that the government can or should really do?


Eilleen said...

I think taxation is the "easy" thing government can do. Increasing funding of education and prevention programs would be a good thing too.

It would also depend on how the tax is set up I suppose.

Recently, my local tattersals has decided to stop selling cigarettes - for a number of reasons - tax being one of them but the fact that they are also increasingly becoming targets for theft is another. So they've switched over to selling coffee beans instead (hmmm swapping one source of addiction to another! hehe).

Cigarettes and alcohol tend to be the more recession-resistant products - simply because of the addiction element.

I think that as with any cultural change, it will come about slowly. I can see changes in attitudes now with cigarettes and drink driving compared to when I was growing up. I assume it will take just as long for cultural change to happen with junk food.

And it would take a concerted effort on the part of governments and communities to tackle it.

David Jeffery said...

Thanks Eilleen. I agree cultural change will happen slowly and I wonder what governments can do to speed it up. The changes in culture about drink driving seemed to start with laws and then followed later by changing community views about whether it's OK to drink and drive. Presumably the ad campaigns helped, not sure how much. I think the banning of smoking in restaurants, public transport, shops and pubs will have a slow but eventually big impact - it's a totally different equation when everyone around you is smoking versus when you have to leave to do it.

Not so sure about junk food - there seems to be more advertising of the healthy aspects of food (eg Macdonad's healthy options) than there was a few years ago, so maybe things are slowly changing back. The economics is a factor - food is much cheaper than it used to be and processed food has falledn relatively more in price. So it's worth thinking about pricing. I wonder if the absence of GST on fresh food versus processed food has helped at all...

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