The WHO proposal of taxes on sugary drinks is not a practical advice. Here’s why | analysis | Hindustan Times
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The WHO proposal of taxes on sugary drinks is not a practical advice. Here’s why

Obesity is a huge problem in India but to blame sugary drinks alone is to have tunnel vision. Much of our food is unhealthy and oily. The so-called home-cooked fare, the virtues of which we extol, is largely fried and unhealthy. So that contributes to obesity

analysis Updated: Oct 14, 2016 15:52 IST
Lalita Panicker
(Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO)

A person goes day after day to a fast food restaurant and scarfs down its jumbo offerings. Years later, dangerously obese, the person sues the fast food restaurant for his condition. Is this fair to the fast food restaurant? What was the person thinking while eating food that is well known to be patently bad for you? The tax that WHO has proposed on sugary drinks falls into this category. It supposes that the drinks manufacturer should bear the responsibility for preventing obesity among consumers.

If WHO has its way, the manufacturer will have to bear the economic brunt of higher taxes and possibly falling sales thanks to the increased price of the drinks. Yes, of course, sugary drinks are bad for you and should be had in moderation if at all. But as Nancy Reagan famously said of drugs, you can just say no. The manufacturer has every right to package and advertise his wares. Every product manufacturer does. The fact that many drinks contain unconscionably high amounts of sugar is no secret.

Read | Tax sugary foods and drinks because their biggest consumers are children

The argument that children are the biggest consumers of sugary food and so they must be priced too high for most people to buy them is facile. May I ask what responsibility parents have to see that their children don’t overindulge in sugary drinks? This is to absolve them completely. Parents make the choice of school for children, they decide who are suitable playmates, they decide on which books they should read, surely they can decide what food or drink is healthy for them.

Read: Want a fitter body? Drink water every time you crave a sugary drink

This seems to be an age where people are loathe to take responsibility for their actions. If they smoke and get related disease, they blame everything from the attractive advertising for cigarettes for misleading them to a lack of knowledge of the consequences. Lawsuits have been won on this argument. No one in their right senses could possibly think that smoking is a healthy pastime. There is so much literature out there telling us of the evils of smoking. A blockbuster movie The Insider was made on the subject. So people who smoke do so in the full knowledge that it could kill them. It is a choice they have made, albeit a very bad one.

Read: Kerala’s Fat Tax: What will it take to win the fight against obesity?

Obesity is a huge problem in India but to blame sugary drinks alone is to have tunnel vision. Much of our food is unhealthy and oily. The so-called home-cooked fare, the virtues of which we extol, is largely fried and unhealthy. So that contributes to obesity. Fast food does, sweets do, alcohol does, Indian snacks do, excessive salt does. Are we going to tax all this? So, let us not get away from our responsibility for what we eat and drink. Higher taxes may bring down sales a bit and make profit margins thinner for the manufacturer. But it is not going to make you thinner or healthier in the long run unless you really watch what you eat and drink.

Read: World Obesity Day: WHO urges price hikes on sugary drinks to promote fitness