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Healthy Living: A Taxing Question of Sin

One thing we are rapidly getting used to (if we hadn't already) is our wannabe leaders making grandiose pronouncements over what they will do if getting their hands on the levers of power.

Jeremy Corbyn says he (and his Shadow Chancellor) will take all our money and possessions away, Vince Cable (and his successor) will shatter democracy by ignoring the will of the majority of those who voted by stopping Brexit, Jeremy Hunt says he will do something else before changing his mind and Boris Johnson says he will have another look at whether or not so-called 'sin taxes' are actually doing anything positive.

Ah, yes. Sin taxes. What this actually means - I'm sure you have figured this out but I'll say it anyway - are the absurdly high levels of taxes imposed on things we like doing, eating or having. For as long as I can remember, successive Chancellors of the Exchequer have been raising taxes on anything the ordinary person likes. It doesn't matter what that like is; it gets a higher tax.

In the past however, at least most of the time, annual tax raises were on the moderate side. Broadly speaking these raises stayed within the boundaries of most people's ability to pay them. That never stopped people wanting, and in many cases needing, a pay rise to cover the ever-spiralling costs of living but for the most part, what money one had coming in just about covered what one needed to pay out.

Over recent years however, that phrase 'ever-spiralling' has taken on a new meaning when it comes to the amount of tax levied on anything perceived by both Government and health 'experts' (I use the word loosely) that could conceivably be bad for us and the environment. Personally I am all for governments and the health industry promoting eating better, living better and generally doing things that don't harm either ourselves or anybody else. What I am not in favour of however, is any element of compulsion. And that includes taxes and the use of Law.

The reasons are two-fold; firstly, in a free society, we are able - or should be able - to make up our own minds. Do we drive or take the bus? We should not and must not be compelled to take the bus. The second is that the continual raising of taxes has nothing to do with health and everything to do with governments lining their coffers with easy money from an easy target. The easy targets are always, always the same ones; fuel, alcohol and tobacco. Food is the latest easy target. And it is easy because if we don't eat, we die.

Making something evermore expensive artificially through tax rises has only one result - it takes that something beyond the ability of people to buy it. The eventual result is that people then stop buying it and that something then ceases to exist. Once it does, out of the window goes the tax because the something no longer exists to be taxed.

What does the government put a tax on then?

It will find the next easy target and tax that. Ultimately the result will be the same. Let's take one example, the first 'something' targeted; tobacco. Now, we all know that smoking cigarettes can kill. We all know that inhaling a substance containing various ingredients can be harmful. Indulge me for a moment and let me tell you a true story; I went to a rather enlightened school, which took the view that whether it liked it or not, kids were going to smoke at some point. I should add that this was in the days when most people did - just like having a pint. Or learning to 'like' booze. It wasn't that long ago as it happens and smoking and drinking might have been the preserve of adulthood but it never stopped young people doing both as they went through their teens.

So the school would allow sixth-formers to smoke on two conditions. The first was that they would give the sixth-former a licence. No licence, no smoking. Put another way, the school wanted to know who did and who didn't. The second condition was that one could only do it in the sixth-form common room. Nowhere else. It was the school's way of guiding people in the right direction and instilling a little self-discipline. No doubt today's worthies earning a nice living out of being health czars telling everybody how to live their lives will scream with outrage at this - but it did work.

One sunny summer day I followed a friend into the common room, he sat by a window and lit up. The sun was streaming through the window and illuminated the cloud of smoke as he exhaled. I looked at this big fug and thought, 'That must be very irritating to anybody who doesn't smoke...' I've never forgotten it and have carried the lesson to this day. Ever since I've tried (not always successfully) to be mindful of others regardless of what it is that I want to do.

That's the first thing missing from today's society. A little consideration for others. And it applies not just to the obvious but to all aspects of life - including those who wish to impose their agenda on others. Including Extinction Rebellion who would destroy air travel. Including all those 'health' fanatics who wish to force everybody to their way of living. Including governments who continue to hammer the cost of doing anything ever upwards. Has anybody who disapproves of air travel stopped to really think about what the consequences would be if flying ceased to exist? No, of course not. Aircraft are an easy target which is why the tax on air travel in the UK is the highest (by a distance) in Europe. Tobacco, alcohol and fuel are also easy targets, which is why they are so expensive.

Utopia - everybody gives up smoking. The tobacco industry goes out of existence. So do the ludicrous taxes now forced on a packet of twenty. The tax loss to the government would be unimaginably huge so I ask again; what do they tax instead?

Alcohol hasn't had quite the same treatment yet as tobacco (too many government and health people like their wine for that - did Jesus turn water into wine or the other way around?) but soft drinks have. And food is the latest easy target. That people eat too much of the wrong things is indisputable. But why is that? Might it be because healthier alternatives cost too much? Check out the prices in your local anyshop.

Obesity is now being touted as the biggest killer since cigarette smoking but here's a little fact for you; people smoked, drank cola and ate chips by the bucketload in years past and didn't get fat.

Why not? Perhaps its because in days gone by kids went out of the house and played football, climbed trees, and were generally active. So were their parents. Then governments (local and national) started selling off school playing fields along with other recreational facilities. Today, kids don't do so much of those ordinary everyday active things anymore because its too dangerous. So kids are getting fatter. Healthy foods cost too much so everybody is getting fatter.

Solution? Just stick a tax on it. Whatever it is, tax it.

Is there not a better way? How about reducing taxes on all those things we like, let us make up our own mind and put the efforts currently made into forcing people to act and behave in only one way into spreading the options out and giving people real choice; make activity open to everybody. Put money into not just school sports but all those locally-run sports clubs and other activity clubs.

And get the cost of healthy eating and living down so people can afford those as well as a bag of cheap chips with a can of cola. You might be surprised at the results of real choice instead of an oppressive one-size-fits-all imposition of zealotry. Get the cost of bus and train travel down, make them properly efficient and timely (and with enough room to sit on a train) and you might be surprised at how many will leave the car at home.

So if Boris Johnson or for that matter anybody else, commits to lower taxes on everything and positive action to bring a healthier way of living as a real choice - and not by force - such a leader might really be a leader instead of a flimsy non-entity who simply listens to those who shout the loudest.

© Kevan James 2019

Read more of Kevan James views in his column here on KJM Today and in News Commentary.

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