Thursday 20 February 2020

The Lancet admits that sin taxes are regressive

The Lancet has teamed up with the WHO and UNICEF to publish a long and boring article about the threats to children's health. It identifies three major global hazards for the government to tackle.

From the press release:

The report, A Future for the World’s Children?, finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children.

Somehow I don't see food advertising in the same class of danger as ecological degradation and global warming. Don't they realise how ridiculous this makes them look?

Did they have to put in something about 'unhealthy commodities' to justify the article appearing in a medical journal, or is advertising what the authors are really interested in? I suspect the latter. Either way, you'd have to be at several removes from reality to consider marketing practices to be one of the top threats to the world's children.

The Lancet has been riddled with juvenile anti-capitalism under the editorship of that perennial student Richard Horton, and this article is another example...

Unregulated commercial activity poses many well documented threats to children, not least environmental ones. However, commercial marketing of products that are harmful to children represents one of the most underappreciated risks to their health and wellbeing.

Does it really, though?

Children are enormously exposed to harmful commercial marketing

Children around the world are exposed to severe threats from the commercial sector, by advertising and market­ing that exploits their vulnerability, by governments not regulating products that harm their growth and development, and by use of their data and images without their knowledge and permission.

According to Kickbusch and colleagues approaches to health promotion have “totally underestimated globalised corporate power com­bined with its global marketing onslaught and its trans­ national influence on political decision making,” a discussion that has yet to be explicitly extended to children. Countries and civil society organisations have not been able to check the power of commercial entities, especially multinational corporations, which exacerbate social and health inequities.

It goes on and on...

Children are the frequent targets of commercial entities promoting addictive substances and unhealthy commodities, including fast foods and sugar­ sweetened beverages, but also alcohol and tobacco, all major causes of non­communicable diseases.

Fast food and sugary drinks are not addictive, and alcohol and tobacco marketing doesn't target children, but whatever.

In the UK, as in most countries, gambling adverts on TV sport events, which are accessible to children, are unregulated.

Er, no. They are very regulated.

The upshot is that they want some kind of global ban on advertisements for alcohol, e-cigarettes, gambling, 'unhealthy foods', sugary beverages and, of course, tobacco. Think of the children, etc.

And who needs evidence when you have the precautionary principle?

Such a protocol could build upon the precautionary principle, introduced in environmental science in the 1990s in recognition of vulnerable groups, especially children. The principle holds that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken to mitigate this action, even if cause­ and­ effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. The precautionary principle has been widely used by environmental scien­tists and regulatory authorities, but it has been insufficiently applied to protect children from com­mercial marketing—commercial entities can market products to children with little evidence that they do not pose a threat to their wellbeing.

Banning things that have been around for generations is not what the precautionary principle is about, and it is a crank idea anyway, but it is a gift to anti-science zealots for obvious reasons.

None of this is very interesting or surprising. I mention it only because the article contains this graph showing the effects on various forms of taxation:

Note that sin taxes on alcohol, sugar, tobacco and 'unhealthy foods' are shown as regressive. And so they are, of course, but that is not what the Lancet was claiming when it teamed up with Mike Bloomberg in 2018 and it is not what the 'Institute of Alcohol Studies' was claiming earlier this week. Still, I'm glad they stumbled on the truth eventually.

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