Tobacco has wreaked its havoc across the world. Now the food industry is following in its wake. Calorie-dense, tasty fast food has spread round the globe in the last four decades, changing dietary habits and leading to an epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. What can be done? It is time to take a leaf out of tobacco's book and bring in a fat tax. In the UK the idea of imposing extra VAT on burgers, chips and sweets was floated by Downing Street in 2004. It was vetoed by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, on the grounds that it would disproportionately fall on the poor.
Swingeing tobacco taxes have made smoking a minority pastime. We should tackle junk food in the same way. The argument that a fat (or soft-drink) tax would be regressive ignores the fact that the ill health caused by obesity (as by tobacco) falls disproportionately on the poor. They have the most to gain from cutting consumption. A fat tax would achieve more than a fistful of public health campaigns – and would help shore up health care budgets under pressure as never before. It awaits a government with the moral courage to drive it through.