Jack Tame is a television and radio journalist and presenter.

Jack Tame: Tax the fizzy, save in the long run

Our obesity rates are alarming and we know sugar is largely to blame. Photo / 123RF
Our obesity rates are alarming and we know sugar is largely to blame. Photo / 123RF

I was living in New York a few years back when the city's mayor tried to ban really big fizzy drinks.

The day before the ban was set to begin, as a bit of a lark, I went hunting the biggest fizzy drink you could buy in Manhattan.

It was a single serve of almost two litres, and by the time I reached the dregs at the bottom of the cup I worried I might have a stroke.

Needless to say, and without going into too much detail, the dash home to my apartment bathroom could best be described as a photo finish.

But the soda ban in New York was rejected by its opponents and eventually scrapped for much the same reason taxation on fizzy drinks has been rejected here.

Although health advocates are as good as unanimous on the health effects of big sugar and the impact fizzy drink has on our obesity rates, the old get-the-government-out-of-my-life argument has triumphed for the time being.

But back in the states, things might just be changing.

In 2015, Berkeley in California became the first US city to introduce a tax on fizzy drink.

This week the city returned data from the first two years of the programme.

In 24 months, sales of fizzy drink in Berkeley dropped 10 per cent. The taxes provided almost $2 million in funding for community health programmes and child nutrition.

To be clear, I'm not a total misery guts when it comes to sugar.

The Government's new public health adviser has recommended banning the use of chocolate bars for kids' fundraising events because sending them home with chocolate gives kids the wrong message.

Our Health Minister Jonathan Coleman rejected the idea - and I suggest from personal experience that kids are far more likely to make a daily habit of scoffing copious fizzy drinks than they are smashing huge blocks of chocolate.

There's almost twice as much sugar in a 600ml fizzy drink than in a whole fundraising block of Caramello.

Loading kids up with saddlebags of chocolate doesn't send a brilliant message, but fizzy drink taxation makes much greater economic and social sense.

Our obesity rates are alarming and we know sugar is largely to blame.

Fizzy is ubiquitous.

And anyone who debates the effectiveness of taxation in curbing behaviour needs only consider our tobacco tax.

Mexico - often listed as the world's fattest nation - has found fizzy drink taxation enormously effective in reducing levels of consumption.

What's more, if moderate taxation curbs sales, and sales can curb obesity rates, we'll save money down the line in treating obesity-related health problems.

New York's big-cup ban couldn't endure fierce opposition - but Berkeley's soda tax is set.

• Jack Tame is on NewstalkZB, Saturdays, 9-noon.

- Herald on Sunday

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Jack Tame is a television and radio journalist and presenter.

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