Commentary

Should We Regulate Sugar Like Alcohol or Tobacco?


     
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The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. -H.L. Mencken

Like a lot of people, I’m increasingly concerned about an expanding waistline and lifestyle-related illnesses. I want my kids to live long, happy, healthy lives, and I want them to develop good eating habits. Is regulating sugar the way we regulate alcohol and tobacco the right way to go about it? Some say yes. I say no. Read on to find out why.

It isn’t like we live in a perfect world. In a recent Comment that appeared in Nature, Robert H. Lustig, Laura A. Schmidt, and Claire D. Brindis of the University of California, San Francisco commented on how “the United Nations declared that, for the first time in human history, chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes pose a greater health burden worldwide than do infectious diseases.” In their words,

The UN announcement targets tobacco, alcohol, and diet as the central risk factors in non-communicable disease. Two of these three—tobacco and alcohol—are regulated by governments to protect public health, leaving one of the primary culprits behind this worldwide health crisis unchecked.

The authors then went on to claim that governments should consider controlling sweeteners with taxes and regulations just like they control alcohol and tobacco. There are several reasons why this probably isn’t a very good idea.

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Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.