France to chew over tax on junk food to fight obesity

The cost of rising obesity levels in France has become a strain on the economy and the country’s famously gluttonous tax man is thinking of taking a slice from the sales of junk food.

France to chew over tax on junk food to fight obesity
Photo: AFP

The French may have a reputation abroad for slim waist lines and good healthy food but the reality is one third of the population are either overweight or obese. And the numbers are only going to increase.

And they are putting a strain on the country’s health system and economy.

A new study by the country’s Treasury (Trésor), a part of the Ministry of Finance which looks at debt and how the state can save money, suggests it’s time to get the tax man involved.

Why don’t we just tax junk food, was one of the conclusions of the report.

The report does not suggest taxing one particular product, like the famous “red bull tax” on energy drinks, but rather the foods that are the most calorific or least nutritional.

The tax would not just be aimed at cutting waistlines but also the economic impact on the country's coffers.

To support the radical plan the Treasury spelled out the economic impact of the country’s growing overweight population.

According to the Treasury obesity levels in France cost the country €20.4 billion a year – an amount similar to economic impact of smoking and drinking alcohol.

That’s because some 25 million French who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension or certain cancers. So they are more likely to cost the state whether it’s in terms of health costs, work stoppages or invalid pensions.

And costs will only keep on rising with the number of overweight and obese people in France set to hit 33 million by 2030.

France already imposes taxes on energy drinks and fizzy drinks  – which pulls in €400 million a year, but the Treasury wants to go further.

But for the “fatty food tax” to be effective it must be significant as the report points out that the deterrent of a small price increase is not enough to turn people off greasy grub.

Another option the government could explore is to increase VAT on the products “most harmful to health”.

The Treasury also recommended other suggestions linked to preventative health such as campaigns against fatty food or limiting the power of advertising of certain junk foods, especially to children.

The problem for France, like in many countries, is that obesity rates are linked to poverty rates and the government does not want any new taxes to hit the country’s worst off.

France’s budget minister Christian Eckert has already said he is not in favour of having a tax link to the number of calories or by raising taxes on junk food.

Eckert believes that would be just too complex.

So what is the solution to rising levels of obesity and the cost on a country?

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Timbre fiscal: Everything you need to know about France’s finance stamps

If you're doing a French admin task, you might be asked to provide a 'timbre fiscale' - here's what these are and how to get them.

Timbre fiscal: Everything you need to know about France's finance stamps

In France, you can buy  a very particular kind of stamp to cover the cost of a titre de séjour, or French passport, to pay your taxes, get an ID card if you’re eligible, or pay for your driving licence.

Basically a timbre fiscale is a way of paying a fee to the government, and some online processes – such as the tax offices – now have the more modern method of a bank transfer or card payment.

However there are plenty of official tasks that still demand a timbre fiscale.

In the pre-internet days, this was a way of sending money safely and securely to the government and involved an actual physical stamp – you bought stamps to the value of the money you owned, stuck them onto a card and posted them to government office.

They could be used for anything from paying your taxes to fees for administrative processes like getting a new passport or residency card.

These days the stamps are digital. You will receive, instead, either a pdf document with a QR code that can be scanned from a phone or tablet, or an SMS with a unique 16-digit figure. Both will be accepted by the agency you are dealing with.

Once you have the code you need, you can add this to any online process that requires timbre fiscaux (the plural) and that will complete your dossier.

You can buy them from a properly equipped tabac, at your nearest trésorerie, or online

Paper stamps remain available in France’s overseas départements, but have been gradually phased out in mainland France.