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Let them drink beer

Written By: - Date published: 1:16 pm, October 25th, 2015 - 30 comments
Categories: health, national, science - Tags: , , ,

The Nats are so desperate to avoid taking action on sugar’s role in the demographics of obesity that they’ve taken to talking pure drivel.

Here’s the transcript:

Political editor Patrick Gower sat down with Dr Coleman and began by asking him what actually happens once a child is identified as obese at a pre-school check.

Jonathan Coleman: They will then get referred to appropriate professional advice …

You’ve justified not contemplating any form of junk-food tax by saying there isn’t enough evidence.

Well, you’re saying a junk-food tax. You mean a sugar tax.

Sugar tax.

Yeah, okay. Soft-drink tax.

Looking at a soft-drink tax –why not?

Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks.

And consumption dropped. That’s evidence, isn’t it?

Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect, so there were other things going on – a tanking Mexican economy, $30 billion drinking-water programme. It’s also not clear if there’s substitution to other beverages. So we’re saying, look, you know, there’s some evidence that’s being assessed – it’s going to be reported on in 2017 at Waikato University as well as the University of North Carolina – but there isn’t any direct evidence of causation that anyone can point to.

Well, the World Health Organization, which put out that major report recently, led by our own Sir Peter Gluckman, you know, that has said, and I will quote it for you, ‘The rationale and effectiveness of taxation measures to influence consumption are well supported by available evidence.’

Well, they might be talking about a decrease in sales. But what we want to know about is – is there a link to obesity directly? So, for instance, there might be a decrease in consumption of soft drinks, but are people drinking more flavoured milk? Are they drinking beer as a substitution? What is says in that report is that, actually, there isn’t clear evidence. On balance, they recommend it, but, look, that’s the WHO, you know? You would expect that they would take a very purist view. … [emphasis added]

Coleman is obviously prepared to go through any contortion to try and avoid the bleeding obvious. Because science rarely deals in certainty, any remaining shred of uncertainty is used as an excuse. I guess he’s just following in Key’s fine traditions (“He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview”). But as with the data on polluted water, or the evidence for climate change, we can only go on ignoring reality for so long before things fall apart.

30 comments on “Let them drink beer ”

  1. Bill 1

    You know the same argument is being had, and the same positions are ebing adopted by the same people in the UK?

    Anyway, I kinda liked this from a Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and chairman of Action on Sugar, calling for …

    a ban on marketing of all unhealthy foods, just like cigarettes. There is no rationale for banning cigarette advertisements when unhealthy food is now a much bigger cause of death in the UK. We need also to stop price promotions in supermarkets, which are almost entirely on the most unhealthy foods and encourage greater consumption. We also need to limit availability and portion size. If all of these actions were put into place, we could prevent the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.


  2. Nic the NZer 2

    “Because science rarely deals in certainty, any remaining shred of uncertainty is used as an excuse.”

    You may be discussing the wrong area of research. Dr Coleman is arguing that people may substitute other unhealthy drinks offsetting the effects of a sugar tax. Supposedly people have certain fixed preferences which they will substitute towards negating the price effects introduced by regulation. Effectively this would mean that government can do nothing to combat unhealthy eating. Given the lack of empirical evidence for government impotence in this area I don’t think we should elevate this assumption to the level of ‘science’. Its clearly just a made up belief which some economists have assumed to be true.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      What a load of drek.

      A sugar tax will apply across all that have sugar in it and that includes beer.

      Effectively this would mean that government can do nothing to combat unhealthy eating.

      Actually, the government can do a hell of a lot by putting in regulations that prevent unhealthy food even being on the market.

      Really, what we’re seeing here is the usual RWNJ BS that works to ensures that nothing will be done so that a few people can continue to make a profit from the suffering of others.

    • John Shears 2.2

      @ Nic
      “Given the lack of empirical evidence for government impotence in this area I don’t think we should elevate this assumption to the level of ‘science’. Its clearly just a made up belief which some economists have assumed to be true.”

      What a lot of bollocks. Tax on products reduces their use because the cost becomes higher than the user is prepared to pay.

      Fats & Sugars are flavour enhancers and at the same time cause obesity if the extra calories are not needed by the individual eating and drinking the product.

      Just why this thread is only about carbonated drinks and Coke in particular, is beyond me. It should be about sugar levels in all food & drink products.

      The tax on sugar could be simply collected at source either from the only NZ Refinery or at the border for imported refined sugars.

      If the initial tax level does not have the desired effect then it would need to be increased until it does.

      The Tax rather than being placed in the consolidated fund should be used to help combat the effects of obesity as a result of dietary intakes from high sugar and other food ingredients.

      This was how the original Social Security Tax was set up, I think 1/6d in the pound and held in a separate account.

      Not likely to happen with the current Minister & Government sadly.

      • Nic the NZer 2.2.1

        You may need to look up the definition of the word impotence.

      • Psycho Milt 2.2.2

        This comment highlights several reasons why the proposed tax is a bad idea.

        1. Scope creep 1. Why just tax “sugary drinks?” Shouldn’t we tax all sugar? And does that mean just sucrose, all the ones ending in “ose” or all carbohydrates?

        2. Scope creep 2. Fats are also bad, right? “Scientists” say so. They believe sugar and fat both cause obesity – so if we’re going to tax sugars, why wouldn’t we tax fat?

        3. Scope creep 3. “If the initial tax level does not have the desired effect then it would need to be increased until it does.” This reads like a Kiwiblog-commenter’s caricature of left-wing thinking.

        4. Ignorance-based approaches to problems are never a good idea. Unfortunately, the whole “sugar-tax” idea is based on this premise: “Fats & Sugars … cause obesity if the extra calories are not needed by the individual…” The premise is untrue. It’s based on the fallacy that obesity is caused by some black-box event in which the calories you take in exceed the amount you expend and the difference is turned into fat. That’s wrong even at first glance (if were true, your weight would fluctuate wildly because those two amounts never match, except by unlikely accident). It’s even more wrong on closer examination, and yet it’s the foundation of the “expertise” of the people demanding the government introduce sugar taxes. I know little about nutrition, but apparently nutritionists know even less than I do. If you don’t know how something works, don’t mess with it – applies to more fields that just IT. Nutritionists don’t know how nutrition works, but they’ve been messing with it for 40 years now and the development of a population of lard-arses is closely correlated with that messing. We should stop listening until they develop some genuine knowledge about their field.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks.

    Which is a load of bollocks.

    The reason why we keep raising taxes on cigarettes is because it reduces the number of people who smoke. This has been known for some time so for him to say that is him outright lying.

    It’s one of those things that applies across the board. Raise taxes on something thus increasing it’s price and it will be bought less. Just as economics actually hypothesises.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    The impact of a sugar tax on soft drink sales and consumption would be very obvious.

    Say right now, a bottle of coke costs $2, whether it is full-strength coke, diet coke, zoke zero or coke life.

    After a sugar tax is put into place, it could be the case that a bottle of regular coke costs $2.50, a bottle of coke life costs $2.30, and diet and coke zero would both still cost $2, on account of them not actually having sugar.

    When faced with those prices on the shelves, do you think people are going to buy regular coke at the same rate as they used to, and not substitute it for one of the cheaper variants?

    Coca cola could even be re-formulated to reduce the amount of sugar, so that it comes down to $2.40 in price instead of $2.50. That in itself would mean people are consuming less sugar.

    • RJL 4.1

      …it could be the case that a bottle of regular coke costs $2.50, a bottle of coke life costs $2.30, and diet and coke zero would both still cost $2…

      Maybe not. Coca Cola could choose to set the price to be the same nonetheless. Maybe it would just make regular coke less profitable for Coca Cola (which is, of course, their main concern).

      • Lanthanide 4.1.1

        “Maybe not. Coca Cola could choose to set the price to be the same nonetheless.”

        Good point. Thankfully, the government can legislate to prevent that happening.

        • Psycho Milt

          Well, it can try. As with most do-gooder proposals, the proposal gets more and more complicated in pursuit of a goal that was of dubious value to start with.

        • RJL

          Good point. Thankfully, the government can legislate to prevent that happening.

          How? I don’t think that it would be very easy to legislate (or audit) at that level of commercial detail.

          • Lanthanide

            For all products currently on sale, the government can mandate that after the sugar tax is brought in, manufacturers must pass on the sugar tax to customers in full on a product-by-product basis, proportional to the sugar content of said product. So product A by the manufacturer that has no sugar would naturally have no sugar tax to apply, and product B which has a lot of sugar would have its price increased as a result of the tax.

            This type of legislation wouldn’t get future products, but it would hammer all of the existing sugary drinks, which are the prime culprits that need hammering anyway.

  5. whateva next? 5

    I was laughing by the end of the interview, so utterly absurd that he thinks we will believe his tripe

    • Lloyd 5.1

      Who says he believes it?
      Con men often tell complete porkies in a manner which appears that they believe what they are saying.
      It is called lying.

      • Grindlebottom 5.1.1

        Whatever you want to call it, it’s an ability most successful politicians develop early and never lose.

    • Kevin 5.2

      I am amazed that Gower didn’t reach over and pat his leg and say ‘there, there, it’s over now’.

      So many opportunities to nail the minister on the rubbish he spouts.

      No mention of the thousands kicked off the elective surgery waiting lists.

      Once again Gower’s interview technique with government ministers is almost the complete opposite of how he conducts interviews with politicians on the left.

  6. mary_a 6

    If NatzKEY wants to address the issue of (childhood) obesity, it might do well to begin with its own front bench! Plenty of blubber to be forfeited there!

    Nothing like leading from the top and setting an example to be followed!

  7. Much as it pains me to agree with a pillock like Coleman, he’s on very good ground with this:

    Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect, so there were other things going on – a tanking Mexican economy, $30 billion drinking-water programme.

    There’s no good reason to assign causality to the tax rather than either or both of those things, or all three. The word “science” shouldn’t be applied to this bullshit – it’s social science, which isn’t the same thing at all.

    Likewise, this also is bullshit:

    ‘The rationale and effectiveness of taxation measures to influence consumption are well supported by available evidence.’

    The quote itself isn’t bullshit – we’ve seen pretty conclusively that it works, via the tax on cigarettes. However, there are two factors applicable in the case of cigarettes that aren’t obviously applicable in the case of sugary drinks:

    1. The level of tax on cigarettes required to influence consumption is enormous. What politician is seriously going to legislate to make a 500-ml coke $10 or upwards?

    2. As Coleman asks, “is there a link to obesity directly?” With cigarettes, there’s a clearly-demonstrated and indisputable link to heart disease and lung cancer. The same can’t be said of sugary drinks and obesity. Personally, I’d say there has to be such a link, because lipogenesis is a matter of insulin response and sugary drinks prompt a high insulin response. But so do a lot of other things, much of which is declared by “experts” to be something called “healthy food” that we should eat in large quantities. Unless there’s proven causality for obesity involving sugary drinks that doesn’t equally apply to all other carbohydrates, drinks manufacturers have every reason to dispute the justification for a tax on their products.

    • Crashcart 7.1

      Sorry for necroing this thread a bit but I had to respond to this.

      You point out the obvious link between smoking and heart disease and lung cancer like it was always accepted. Ignoring the fact that tobacco companies spent millions of doallars delaying a consensus by funding bollox research that countered what real researchers were saying. Sort of like Coke spending huge sums of money to produce research that counters research by actual scientists that links the increase in sugar intake and the increase in obesity rates.

      So far every thing I have read from you on here is feeding into the whole idea of “we can’t do anything cause we don’t know enough” mantra. Well bollox to that. The obesity epidemic isn’t going to go away while we sit on our asses waiting for scientists to tell us definitively what needs to be done. Governments with courage need to take action and attempt to work with the best available data to improve the situation now.

      [lprent: We leave the comments open for 30 days after the post goes up. ]

  8. gsays 8

    Once again we are dancing to the Tory tune.

    The questions to ask are to enquire about who has been lobbying the government t and the nature of the lobbyists desires.

    Time and time again we end up singing the Tory tune.

    If the journalists will not ask, perhaps the opposition needs to start.

    • Kevin 8.1

      What would be the point?

      Government ministers now just refuse to answer the hard question in the house and the speakers washes his hands of it.

  9. Detrie 9

    I think Jamie Oliver has the right idea in the UK. Use a tax on sugary drinks to fund other initiatives. http://www.jamieoliver.com/sugar-rush/

  10. Treetop 10

    Were sugar to be reduced in products, the cost of the product would go up as it would cost the manufacturer more in healthy ingredients.

    Too much sugar, fat and artificial colour in isles at the supermarket. Carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, thats why carbohydrates need to be restricted. I would like to know how much sugar carbohydrates produce.

    Removing sugar is the best solution because sugar adds kgs to body weight.

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