The Liberal Agenda – Sugar, Rum and Tobacco a new BWB Text on sugar taxes


‘Sugar, rum and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life…which are…objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation.’ – Adam Smith

New Zealand has the third-highest rate of obesity in the OECD and according to the 2015/2016 New Zealand Health Survey, one in three adults is obese. In the face of what is widely viewed as a public health crisis, many different solutions have been proposed. Should we restrict advertising of unhealthy food? Remove the GST on fresh fruit and vegetables? What about a tax on sugar?

The idea of a tax on sugary food or sugar-sweetened beverages has growing support in New Zealand and overseas. A recent UMR research pollcommissioned by the University of Auckland found that two thirds of the 750 New Zealanders surveyed support a tax on sugary beverages, with revenue to go to childhood obesity programmes. Some nations, such as Mexico, have even introduced taxes on sugary drinks such as sodas.

Yet while these policies have met with approval from some, they have also been the subject of strong criticism from others. They have been accused of restricting individual freedom, being regressive taxes, and being ineffective at decreasing consumption.

This new BWB Text is an evidence-based exploration of the sugar tax debate. Can a sugar tax improve public health, it asks, and even if it can, is it the right thing to do? One of New Zealand’s foremost health scientists, Mike Berridge, teams up with tax expert Lisa Marriott to discuss the issue. Sugar, Rum and Tobacco is a timely and reasoned addition to a contentious debate.

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About the Authors

Mike Berridge is a Distinguished Research Fellow and a founding scientist at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, formerly the Wellington Cancer & Medical Research Institute, in Wellington. His research career began in the plant sciences and progressed to developmental biology. His current research interests include cancer cell biology, energy metabolism and cancer immunotherapy. His discovery that mitochondria along with their genes move between cells was recognised with the 2016 Liley Medal of the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Lisa Marriott is an Associate Professor of Taxation at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Accounting and Commercial Law. Lisa’s research interests include social justice and inequality, and the behavioural impacts of taxation. Lisa has publications in a range of refereed journals and is the author of The Politics of Retirement Savings Taxation: A Trans-Tasman Perspective. Her work is interdisciplinary, covering disciplines including sociology, political science and public policy. In 2013, Lisa was awarded a Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Grant to investigate the different treatments of tax evasion and welfare fraud in the New Zealand justice system. Lisa has worked in the private sector in the United Kingdom and in the public sector in New Zealand. For the past ten years, she has worked in academia.