Nothing 'pukka' about a tax on soda

Posted on September 1, 2015

Jamie Oliver's latest campaign is to reduce sugar consumption in the UK, especially by children. It follows in a long line of programmes, articles and news stories built on the 'latest research' that all claim that sugar is a particular menace to the nation's health, particularly for kids, who will end up - it is claimed - obese and diabetic because of their 'sweet tooth', a tooth that will no doubt end up rotten, only to be yanked out under anaesthetic in the local hospital.

Oliver's much trailed one-off programme, Jamie's Sugar Rush, promises to tick all the usual boxes. Horrific images of surgery? Check. Medical experts making gloomy predictions about our children's future health? Check. Big business presented as a one-dimensional enemy? Check. Ham-fisted demand that Something Must Be Done? Check.

Like all good monomaniac crusaders, Jamie gets particularly annoyed at those who just don't 'get it'. The dimwits must have it spelt out in no uncertain terms. So he has called for pictorial sugar-content labelling on the sides of drinks containers. "Even those who are on side, like scientists, hate the idea of (pictures of) teaspoons on the side of sugary sweetened drinks, but I totally disagree. If you put a snapshot on a can and it said it had 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, it’s going to change consumption by everyone. Even Billy from Bognor is going to get it."

Above all, though, Jamie wants a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages of 20 pence per litre, equivalent to seven pence on a can of regular Coke. "They’re a business and they categorically don’t believe in a sugar tax. But seven pence on a can of Coke is a billion quid a year and I want it for you!"

Jamie clearly has a low view of consumers, casually dismissed as 'Billy from Bognor', and a flimsy grasp on economics and politics. He sees us as in need of intervention because we are too daft to make sensible choices for ourselves. Sorry, Jamie, but what sounds like a sensible choice from the standpoint of a squillionaire on a mission is not necessarily the same as a rational choice for us as individuals. The fact that he thinks that a billion pounds in soda taxes would be getting money for us from big companies seems to neglect the small detail that it will be consumers paying the tax. And if such a tax were to go through, it would be more about applying another sticking plaster to the public finances than protecting the nation's health. Have the billions raked in through cigarette taxes done anything for smokers? No chance. For 'health tax', read 'stealth tax'.

Love him or loathe him, Jamie Oliver is a popular and successful presenter and restaurateur. Rather than trying to continue to inspire us in how we could make more interesting food, he has occasional fits of wanting to Do Some Good. His anti-sugar campaign, if successful, would exaggerate health fears, hit consumers in our pockets, further encourage the public-health lobby to ever-greater intervention in our lives and further limit choice. There's nothing 'pukka' about that.