I was interested to read in the papers over the festive season that some researchers have reviewed Scotland’s recent Public Health Supplement and found that while the “supplement” part of the deal delivered a substantive and reliable income, the “public health” element of the scheme was rather lacking.
Yet the headlines that the public health claim was misleading risks leaving readers with the impression that charging those who sell unhealthy products does not benefit public health.
I am fully aware of the questions over the public health supplement as it was framed. Charging large stores which sold both tobacco and alcohol did not stop these stores from selling either product. Nor were the tens of millions raised ring-fenced for public health spending, so that no health impact could actually be evidenced.
But the principle that those making money from a problem should help pay to clear it up (sometimes known as “polluter pays”) is clear and well accepted. It has much to offer discussions on public health, where many of the biggest impacts come from consumer goods sold for profit – with sugar now jostling for attention alongside tobacco and alcohol.
We will of course hear that tobacco is already heavily taxed – but the sums raised are still less than the economic cost of health care and reduced productivity, let alone the social cost of 10,000 deaths a year in Scotland alone. And that tax falls on individual smokers – should we not also ask those who produce and who sell the product to make their contribution?
Whatever the harm caused by these products the commercial imperative pushes retailers to sell them. Surely it is not beyond us to develop a levy proposal which can reduce that pressure on retailers, while creating a useful investment fund for public health?
For the original version of this see: http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14986677.It_is_right_to_levy_those_who_produce_and_sell_cigarettes/