Budapest’s new ‘fat tax’

Easy on the paprika

Budapest's new 'fat tax'

Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

In the land of goulash, paprika has long been king. Hungarians obsess over their national spice. Guards sometimes paw through travellers’ bags at borders, hunting for illicit batches of the burnt-orange flavouring. But new tastes have come to dominate Hungary in recent years. The Western trio of salt, fat and high-fructose corn syrup has moved in, adding inches to the average Hungarian waistline. Hungary is not Europe’s fattest country. That remains the United Kingdom. But its people are getting larger. Nineteen per cent of Hungarians are considered obese, according to numbers compiled by Der Spiegel magazine. That compares to just eight per cent of Romanians and 10 per cent of Italians.

But beginning on Sept. 1, Hungarians will pay a steep tariff on packaged junk foods and sugary drinks. The government expects to raise about $97 million annually from the levy, which has been earmarked for Hungary’s cash-strapped health care system. But researchers differ on how effective so-called “sin taxes” are at changing behaviour. Hungarians, as a result, may be as chubby as ever after the tariff comes into force—they’ll just be a little poorer, too.

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