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The Press-News column June 17

Why a Sugar Tax is a lemon.

With New Zealand weighing in as one of the leading lard-arse nations in the developed world, would a tax on sugary drinks help combat the obesity crisis? The Medical Association’s call for such a politically unpalatable tax has been swiftly rejected by the government, who also reject the call for other sin stings like a fat tax. Well-intentioned as these targeted taxes may sound, they soon come waywardly unstuck in their applicability. What exactly is sugary drink? What if the sugar occurs naturally like in juices? And what about sugar-laden products, per say? Would such a tax extend to items like tomato sauce, which carries a colossal sugar loading? Where would such a taxation crusade end? Interestingly, one of the first governments in the world to impose a tax on soda drinks was the State of Arkansas, in 1992, just as Governor Clinton was packing his bags for the White House. Two button-busting decades on, has the tax helped turn the tide on obesity in Arkansas? No, the state’s obesity rate has doubled to 34.5%, the third highest in the United States. Surely the Medical Association would be far better focusing on their campaign for a traffic light labelling system for food. As an aside, several of my friends have recently stripped wheat from their diet, and they’re all adamant they feel healthier, have more energy and weigh less, as a result. My love-affair with bread is too deep, to be following that fad. But nannying by the state won’t solve an abusive relationship with food. It relies on the individual consumer making smarter choices. To help that cause,  it would be refreshing if supermarket fat-cats eased up on the temptation game.  Our confectionary-loaded checkout lanes are the embodiment of profit-driven gluttony milking the impulse of consumer weakness. Ask anyone who works in a Christchurch supermarket, and they’ll confirm what a financial goldmine checkout lane confectionary is. Last month, Tesco announced that in a bid to “help our customers eat healthily” they will soon withdraw all unhealthy treats from every single check-out across Britain and Ireland. Now, sure,  most of our supermarkets have a confectionary-free lane. Although, at my local supermarket, it’s invariably unstaffed and closed.  It’s a tokenistic gimmick. Wouldn’t be it be great if Foodstuffs and Progressive took a leaf out of Tesco’s book? You only have to look around any store at checkout time to see the profitable potency of “pester power” in action, when parent and child are doing the weekly shop.  Come on F & P, purge that checkout crap.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in the Press. June 17. http://www.press.co.nz

 

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