A tax on its own won’t cure obesity

So writes Niki Bezzant who drank the Coolaid at the FIZZ lobby group event

A tax on its own won’t cure obesity.

That doesn’t mean, though, that it is not worth doing. I’m more convinced than ever that a tax has to be part of the solution.

Expert after expert came at the topic from different angles.

Economist Geoff Simmons neatly dismantled the arguments put forward by opponents of a tax, including the one that it is regressive – it hurts the poorest people in society – by pointing out that obesity and diabetes are highly regressive, too, disproportionately affecting the most deprived.

He also made the excellent point that raising money via a tax is just the start. We need to spend that money wisely and it can be spent for good.

In the petition we are calling for the money raised from a tax to be spent on healthy eating education, a key part of the obesity puzzle.

Coming at it from a legal angle, Professor Michael Littlewood from Auckland University took a pragmatic approach.

He admitted knowing nothing about health.

But, he said, if the goal is to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, a tax – specifically imposed on a per unit basis, say $1 per litre – will achieve that.

He addressed the “nanny state” cry by looking at the criteria for nanny state legislation: how harmful is the product to the person using it and what is the burden on other taxpayers?

The harm of sugary drinks is well-established.

Amazing really. ?The science is settled, you could say. ? The fact there is sugar in lots of other things is what makes this such a nasty and targeted attack on a single source of sugar in diet. ??

And the burden is huge. It costs more than $20 million a year just to remove decayed teeth from young children. The cost from obesity and diabetes is over a billion dollars and climbing.

Those who are opposed to nanny state, said Littlewood, should consider that we tend not to mind nanny-state laws in many other circumstances. He listed some: motorcycle helmets; seatbelts; dangerous drugs; liquor and tobacco.

I’m not sure New Zealand will ever be SSB-free. They’ve done it in Tokelau, but that is a highly controlled environment: small islands with one boat in and out for people and soft drinks alike.

Perhaps an achievable vision for us is an Aotearoa with lots of healthy drinks choices – and also a tiny corner of the shelf where the expensive and unpopular SSBs live.

We have lots of healthy drink choices. ?Do you have any idea how many kinds of bottled water you can choose from? ?More ironically, all the “natural” and “healthy” fruit juice related drinks?

FIZZ is nothing but a tax payer funded industry attack group that pretends to have a moral high ground through the use of academics that claim to use science and independence.

Here’s a word to the wise for other food manufacturers. ?Today they’re coming for sugar in soft drinks, essentially Coca-cola. ?Tomorrow they will come for anything else.

Consumers should have access to choice, to education and to support for making choices that are better for their health and well-being. ? Is this really achieved through taxing a tiny sliver of the food industry through force and targeted vilification?

They did salt. ?They did fat. ?They did cholesterol. ?Now it is sugar.

No tax will cure obesity.


– Niki Bezant, NZ Herald