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Thoughts on the UK’s move to create a sugar tax

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

I was stoked to see news of the UK Introducing a sugar tax on soft drinks today, a move which makes complete sense in terms of taxing substances that result in extra costs on the healthcare system just like Alcohol and Tobacco. It would be great if NZ were to follow through, although I wouldn’t hold my breath for it considering how one inspirational doctor that I worked with gave up campaigning after 15 years without success – a sad reality of the difficulty in getting policy changes.

Sugar is obviously a more tricky substance than alcohol and tobacco since it’s in all our food and drink, and like the first article above mentions, there are lots of loopholes to this law such as thickshakes, milkshakes and smoothies which can have equally high levels of sugar.

In saying that, soft drinks still account for a large portion of this, making this law a good start. I personally see more room for improvement in this law by taxing various categories of sugar levels in food/drink e.g. X% for 3-6g sugar/100g, 2X% for 6-9g sugar/100g and 3X% for above 9g/100g or something along those lines. That way, it’d be a lot fairer to the various businesses in the food industry, and encourage an industry-wide shift downwards in sugar levels (for purely commercial reasons).

Business; often seen as a force of evil despite all the good it has introduced
Business; often seen as a force of evil despite all the good it has brought to the world

But I’m being idealistic here, this law is still an excellent start, and demonstrates an important point in what the different roles of government and business are. Many people criticise businesses for all the world’s problems, being driven by profit, when they ignore that same force is what has brought almost all of the technology we use today. Indeed business can be a powerful force for good and bad, but I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of business people to decide on the morality of various businesses.

The problem if that was the case, would be that even if 99.9% of business people are highly moral people with great intentions, it would take just one business person to ruin it all, by making a massively profitable business that no one else would like to run, leaving them with a monopoly and keeping all the profits.

Hence why if it’s possible or legal in a country for a certain business to operate, I believe it’s beneficial for more of these businesses to exist, to at least increase the competition and distribute the huge profits of a small immoral minority to the wider majority and help the economy, as was being done with fast food and soft drinks. Then the way to bring about real social change is through the role of Government in ensuring businesses have a fair playing field, and taxing those products/services which add to the cost of healthcare – a challenge obviously far easier said than done. The same can be done with carbon emissions for climate change, and potentially other limited resources that our planet has such as crude oil.

Here’s a radical thought for the day: What if to make the biggest difference in the world, you didn’t join some charity or other humanitarian organisation (like I did), but instead join an industry which you believe to be the most ethically challenged, whether that’s marijuana dealers, strip clubs, pharmaceuticals, hedge funds, or whatever else you believe needs changing. If you can get to the top of your game in an area like this, I think you’ll firstly understand the minute details involved to appreciate the complexity of the problem, secondly be in a much better position to move the industry in a more ethically appropriate way rather than simply being upset by it.

Finally, reflecting on the role distinction between government and business in my own life, I thought I would relate this to my recent change in organisation a bit more: while The Learning Collaborative is boldly aiming to reduce inequities within education, the government has already trialled over 80 highly powered initiatives, all of which haven’t managed to alleviate these inequities. With this considered, the likelihood of TLC making a significant difference is slim; as a small, private organisation with their current structure.

It would be phenomenal if the Government would trial different, more high-powered initiatives to improve educational inequality being the only ones who have a shot at alleviating this (even them having a low, albeit possible chance of success), but it would need people of influence in the education sector to create that change (otherwise one could be campaigning for 15 years with no success like the doctor mentioned above). Being a part of a large and rapidly-growing education company with big potential like Crimson is an excellent opportunity to gain that influence.

And in the meantime, there’s huge opportunity for me to impact society in other ways through business too, by offering high value education packages extending the brightest students of New Zealand – something which NZ was severely lacking (as compared to overseas), until Crimson Consulting entered the market.

Reflection over, but back to the point – let’s celebrate this historic step that the UK has taken in dealing with sugar and the obesity epidemic seriously, hopefully other countries including ours will follow suit in the years to come (if the evidence that comes out showing that the move is favourable).

Update: Glad to see my previous Summer Research Supervisor Professor Rod Jackson also wrote pushing for NZ to introduce a sugar tax, despite perhaps one of the most misleading headlines even for NZ Herald standards 😛

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