Manitoba considering fat tax: report

As our health care costs continue to soar, it's no surprise that at least one jurisdiction in Canada is considering a law to legislate healthy lifestyles.

According to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Greg Selinger government in Manitoba is considering a tax on fatty foods.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) today released FOI documents showing the Manitoba government has conducted a pile of research on fat taxes.

Contained within the documents is evidence that suggest the Selinger government’s cabinet has considered introducing a “junk food tax” and a “Healthy Living Levy.” (P.83-84)

On the surface it makes sense.

In British Columbia, for example, unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles and smoking costs taxpayers $3.8 billion a year in economic and health-care costs.

We have cigarette taxes, so why not fat taxes?

Besides, should taxpayers be on the hook for the thousands of Canadians who become ill thanks to a dinnertime ritual that consists of a hot dog, a Super Big Gulp and nachos with extra cheese?

[ Related: Raising tobacco taxes costly to governments and ineffective on smokers, study claims ]

Other jurisdictions have attempted to introduce these types of policies.

In 2012, the Danish government introduced the world's first ‘fat tax’ by adding about 16 Kroner, or $2.87, per kilogram of saturated fat in each product. They've since repealed the law claiming that the tax led to highers costs and higher unemployment.

Last year, the City of New York tried to implement a ban on the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, concession stands and other eateries.

Closer to home, public schools in many provinces have been successful in banning junk food in cafeterias and vending machines.

[ More Politics: Should we be critical of politicians who send their children to private schools? ]

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, however, argues against fat taxes, referencing their November 2013 study that concludes that they don't improve health outcomes and lead to more cross-border shopping.

They also cite references from their FOI indicating that Manitoba government staffers are of the same mind.

“Currently there is only, at best, weak evidence that junk food taxes would be effective in achieving public health goals of influencing food choices. Such taxes would certainly raise revenue.” – Staff Note (P.31)

“Most studies have considered the impact of tax rates of up to 30%. It has been shown, even with small taxes, that the effect would be regressive – that is, there would be a greater economic impact on lower income consumers.” – Staff Note (P.31)

Certainly, in the short term, it looks as if there's little benefit to health care costs.

But if a fat tax increases government revenues — by 'punishing' individuals who disproportionately use health services — then isn't it a policy worth considering?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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