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Sugary drinks tax petition: why are we doing this?

Sugary drinks tax petition: why are we doing this?

Media organisations – especially magazines – lobbying the government is not something you see too often. Some would say it’s not the place of a food magazine to get involved in a debate about taxation.

I can see their point. We’ve had the idea for a petition about a tax on sugary drinks for a while. It came up about six months ago and we have debated it furiously ever since. We flip-flopped between thinking it was a great idea and thinking it would be a waste of time. We knew public opinion – including that of our own readers – was divided on the issue. Some people think it’s a no-brainer to make sugary drinks more expensive to drive down consumption, while others detest the idea of the government getting involved in influencing what we eat. Some feel affronted that they should have to pay for other people’s poor choices in the supermarket, and that it’s a personal responsibility what we choose to eat and drink.

At Healthy Food Guide we feel strongly that our purpose is to help people; it’s what we have been dedicated to for the last eleven years. We like to think we have helped many Kiwis to be a bit healthier, and helped their families get a bit healthier, too.

When the news came that the UK is introducing a tax on sugary drinks, it felt like a huge shift. It was reading the astonishing statement from the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne that really got me:

“I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation: ‘I’m sorry – we knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing’.”

That’s how I feel, now, too. Yes, there are plenty of critics of this idea. And yes, us doing this could turn some people off. We may lose readers. But it would feel worse to not get out there and say: this is what we believe. Especially having heard – for years – the health professionals we respect and admire and work with saying they believe this is a good idea.

We know a tax on sugary drinks is not the “silver bullet”, as Health Minister Jonathon Coleman describes it. Of course it’s not the one thing that’s going to solve the obesity crisis. But it is one thing that can – as part of a wider set of measures, including education – make a contribution.

It’s hard to see who it would harm. And if it does even a small amount of good – if it helps even a few people, especially kids, to be healthier – it feels like it’s worth doing.

If you’d like to sign the petition, click here.

First published: Mar 2016

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