In March 2014 the French Senate published a report ’Taxation and Public Health: evaluation of behavioural taxation’ to back up a proposal to introduce a ’junk food tax’ on products associated with increased non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The main objective of the proposed tax would be to counteract poor dietary habits and to compensate for the public health costs linked to the consumption of junk food - currently hugely overlooked from any public debate around the issue. In support of the initiative, EPHA sent an open letter to the French Minister of Health, as well as to the two French Senators who prepared the report.
Dear Madam Marisol Touraine Minister of Health of the French Republic
cc: Madam Catherine Deroche, Sir Yves Daudign
On behalf of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) – Europe’s leading NGO representing a broad range of public health organisations advocating for better health for all, we are writing to you to express our strong support for the French Senate publication ’Taxation and public health: evaluation of behavioural taxation’. The report proposes a so-called ‘fast food’ tax on products associated with cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and targets soft drinks in particular. The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) welcomes this initiative and highlights the need for its prompt approval and implementation in France, to be hopefully followed by other EU member states.
Echoing the report’s concern over the rising burden of and vast inequalities in poor diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in particular CVD, but also overweight and obesity – especially among the child population - the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) congratulates the French Senate for the timely launching of its landmark report on pro-public health food taxes. We strongly agree that fiscal measures are an important untapped public health tool which play a promising role in influencing consumers’ choices and subsequently their health.
It is our belief that taxes to counter poor dietary habits could compensate for the huge public health costs associated with the consumption of junk food. France has become aware of the public health problem that junk food poses and has decided to explore ambitious and bold actions to address it. We would like to encourage policy makers in all European countries to follow not only France’s positive example, but also those of Hungary and Romania, to curb the consumption of cheap and abundant, but nutritionally poor fast food, sugary and energy drinks.
In addition, we would also like to emphasise the need for more sustainable and systemic measures related to nutrition as low income groups are clearly disadvantaged when making healthy choices. Increasing taxes on products that are incoherent with the achievement of public health objectives and that contribute to NCDs– notably those high in fat, salt and sugars (HFSS) – will work best when lower taxes and targeted agricultural subsidies for healthy products (fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes) are put in place. This should be paired with much tougher and government-led regulations on labelling, advertising and marketing of unhealthy products.
The French Senate has taken a bold step to protect the general health of its society today and in the future. It is our sincere hope that the focus will remain on health and steer away from discussions around the expected losses to the agri-food industry. Addressing health inequalities through enabling policies and environments should not be secondary to the competitiveness of any sector, nor to the blind pursuit of growth by any means.
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