Editorial: Time to seriously ponder sugary drinks tax

WHAT price health?

That question is ultimately at the heart of the debate about a tax on sugary drinks.  

Proponents of the impost argue that a tax on products such as Coca-Cola and Fanta would discourage consumers from over-indulging in soft drink.

They say the long term impact of fizzy beverages is greater health woes with higher levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Objectors to a sugar tax, including Border federal MPs Sussan Ley and Cathy McGowan, cite a range of arguments.

They include poor people being hurt by it, the sugar industry suffering and the burdensome nature of a further tax on a product already subject to the GST.

Soft drinks can be compared to cigarettes in some ways.

Both are legal, but they are both deleterious to your health if used to excess.

Governments of all persuasions have over decades tackled smoking with a variety of measures.

They have ranged from banning cigarette advertising through to proscribing smoke-free public spaces, be they the interior of a plane or the perimeter of a hospital.

Forty years ago, when ashtrays dotted offices and billboards glamourised smoking, it would be far-fetched to think we would have plain-packaged cigarettes and laws against smoking in playgrounds.

But will we look back in another 40 years and think it was amazing how indifferent society was to the effects of sugar?

How great does the burden on our health system have to become before action?

Plenty in the community would say it’s a consumers’ right to buy what they want and eat and drink whatever they choose.

The corollary to that argument is that if a tax was applied to sugary drinks it would not be compulsory to pay it.

Neither cola, lemon squash or energy drinks are staples.

Australia enjoys some of the finest tap water in the world and milk’s benefits for bone health are well known.

Soft drink manufacturers themselves realise that sugar is not a good look for them.

Since Diet Coke was introduced into Australia in 1983, carbonated beverage makers have been ever keener to stress their ‘healthy lifestyle’ appeal.

But with the proportion of Australians who are obese increasing across all ages, from 18.7 per cent in 1995 to 27.5 per cent  in 2011-12 a circuit-breaker is needed.