Should we tax high sugar fizzy drinks?

To tax fizzy drinks or not? That is the question. An experienced politician in New Zealand has recently suggested that the government should tax fizzy, high sugar drinks, and use the money from this tax to pay for free dental care for everyone. It sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? The public seems to like it so much so that the other morning when I was watching the Breakfast show the presenters were commenting on how they received no feedback that was against it. They read out emails that stated comments like ‘I could do with free dental care as I drink so many fizzy drinks, my teeth are stuffed’. 

So where do you think a fitness professional who has committed his life to helping people make healthy choices sits on this issue? 

For me the bigger question is: Should the government be taxing our behaviours? Should the government have the ability to tell you how you should make your choices and if they think your choices are bad for you should you have to pay more taxes for this? This is a tough question to answer. 

The argument that is always put forward is that bad behaviours cost more to society so why should a person who doesn’t do that particular behaviour have to pay for the person who does? The classic example is smoking. We all know that smoking is terrible for your health, that the cost of smoking to our health system is huge, so if you choose to smoke why should a non-smoker have to pay the bill for your health bills when you choose not to do this unhealthy behaviour? This is a good point, and one that is hard to disagree with. 

But what if I were to tell you that smokers don’t cost more to society. A Dutch study published in 2008 in the Public Library of Science Medicine Journal stated that the health care cost for smokers was about $326,000 from the age of 20 years onwards, while in comparison nonsmoking, thin and healthy people cost about $417,000 from the age of 20 onwards. How could that be? We all know smokers generally have more health problems. The reason is that thin, healthier people live much longer. The biggest cost to the health system is during an older person’s last years of their lives. 

Obviously this isn’t a good argument for smoking as the behaviour is shortening your life, but it can make you think twice about ‘the cost to society’ argument that is often put forward. When you consider how much the government taxes smoking some people even argue that smoking makes a profit for government, although I’ll stay away from this point right now. 

So what is my point? We all make choices that cost each other, it’s just  part of living in modern day society and at times in our life your choices are going to cost more to society while at other times they will cost less. I’m a guy who has done extreme fitness for years and I’m sure that later on down my path I’m going to get some wear and tear problems that will cost a lot to society, should I have to pay more taxes because I want to run for long periods of time? Maybe the government should start a ‘healthy amount of running’ tax where if you run over two hours more than twice a week you will have to pay $5 per run. 

What about sex? People who don’t use protection cost more than those who do due to the higher chance of getting STDs. Maybe the government can start taxing people who don’t use condoms because of the extra cost it presents. Think about yourself, what behaviours do you partake in that present a higher cost to society? We all cost each other, it’s just the deal.

The problem I have is if we allow the government to tax our behaviors where do we draw a line in the sand? In my mind there should be no line, I want to be free to make my own choices in my life and as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else (and obviously I don’t believe the cost is hurting you) I should be left alone to do this. 

But that thinking does present me with a problem. Obesity rates are rising and one of the reasons is due to high consumption of sugar drinks, this is a problem so what should the government and society do to deal with this problem. While I don’t have all the answers I am a big believer in personal responsibility so part of the solution is to create education on the effects of these foods on people’s health. Imagine if in every ad break there was one ad that educated us on how to make healthy decisions. The better educated we become the higher the chance that we’ll make better decisions. 

When it comes to regulation I believe the government should be a lot stricter on how companies can market their products. While Coke will tell you that there’s happiness in every bottle I don’t think anyone will be laying on their death bed thinking the best moments of their life was because of Coke. At the end of the day it’s a brown caffeinated drink that has nearly 40g of sugar in a can, that’s nearly eight teaspoons! If companies were forced to be more honest about their products I think we’d all be better at making healthy decisions in our life. 

I know that both of these quick examples have their faults, the solution would need to be explored in more depth but to me this is the kind of thinking we need to move towards. I’m saddened when I hear comments like ‘I need the tax because I need my teeth to be fixed’ because my freedom is important to me. Do you really want to have someone else tell you what a good life is, especially the government? I know that this is a discovery I want to figure out for myself. 

Our modern times are presenting us with new problems that societies haven’t had to face ever before. As a collective we need to face these problems in a way that promotes personal responsibility, education and regulation that allows us to make informed decisions based on what is really in our food. We have problems, real problems but instead of giving away our freedom let’s try to find solutions that empower us to learn what is the best thing to do in our lives. 


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Bevan Eyles