Is The EU Becoming A “Nanny State”?

With Ireland introducing a new tax on sugary drinks, fears are being raised that EU countries are turning into “nanny states”. Officials claim the move is designed to tackle obesity, which is an issue which needs to be addressed. With 24% of adults and 7% of children classed as obese in Ireland, the government claims this tax is essential to protect the health of citizens.

The new tax in Ireland follows the recent news that France intends to increase their existing soda tax. The French government claims it introduced the tax for the sake of public health, however consumers believe it is a scheme to raise revenue. “Sin taxes” seem to be unpopular with consumers. The Danish government introduced a tax on high fat foods, only for it to be repealed after 15 months.

These taxes are not just seen as a burden on consumers, especially those with low incomes, they’re also thought to encourage downgrading to cheaper products rather than discouraging the consumption of the actual products. The “Nanny State Index”, which was published this year highlights the countries which have the highest taxes on food, cigarettes and alcohol, with Finland, the UK, Ireland coming out top of the table.

Protecting public health

Despite concerns that these laws are turning the EU into a “nanny state”, officials claim that these laws and regulations are essential to protect the health of the public. According to EU data, Europe has the highest consumption of alcohol per-capita and it’s the cause of 1 in 10 premature deaths across the continent.

Other unhealthy lifestyle choices are adding to the problem. Tobacco use in the EU is the highest of the world. 28% of Europe’s population smokes, causing an estimated 700,000 premature deaths. In European Union countries, 30-70% of adults are overweight and 10-30% are obese.  Taxes on sugary drinks are considered to be a deterrent to prevent obesity, which can cause diabetes, stokes and heart disease.

Are the taxes effective?

According to the “Nanny State Index”, there is very little evidence that sin taxes have a positive outcome on public health stating that “no correlation between Nanny State Index scores and life expectancy”. However taxation is thought to be effective in reducing consumption of the products. According to the report “Tax seems to be the most plausible policy that could reduce consumption of alcohol and tobacco. If the objective is to reduce consumption, then increasing price can be effective.”

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