It’s a common enough argument around the world at the moment, that various unhealthy behaviours increase the costs to health care systems. Thus those unhealthy behaviours should be taxed more heavily so as to pay for the costs to those health care systems. The only problem with the argument is that it is entirely gibbering nonsense, unhealthy behaviours reduce costs to health care systems: if we are to accept the initial logic then we should subsidise them, not tax them.
We see it in my native UK over smoking, alcohol and obesity. Rarely does a week go past without there being another report about how much this or that activity costs the NHS and thus taxes must be raised. You’ve got it in the US with the various people calling for taxes on HFCS, sugar, empty calories, soda pops and junk food.
Now there is no doubt at all that these unhealthy behaviours do have costs, that’s not at issue. The major cost is of course to the imbiber, smoker or lardbucket in the form of a shorter lifespan. However, it’s pretty much a given that in anything even approximating to a free or liberal society that consenting adults have to be left to make their own cost benefit trade offs.
But what about these costs to the health care systems? Well, the clue is in that shortened lifespan. Yes, certainly, there are costs to treating the diseases brought on by too much booze, tobacco or food. But there are costs to treating all diseases, all modes and methods by which we might possibly reach that undoubted destination, the grave.
The question is, are the costs of treating the illnesses and deaths brought on by those three indulgences higher or lower than the costs of treating those who live healthily but still inevitably die? We could argue it either way: Alzheimer’s costs more to manage than lung cancer costs, the cracked hips of age related osteoporosis perhaps more or less than fried livers from excessive bourbon. What we need to do is actually go and tot up the figures. Fortunately, that has been done:
Click through for the numbers...