Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Let's restrict soft drink ads too

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Child actress Shirley Temple in 1933.
Child actress Shirley Temple in 1933.

The shift to plain packaging for cigarettes should further reduce the already low smoking rate of 15 per cent of the adult population.

Acceptance of the move suggests the time may be right for an equally simple preventive measure to improve the health of hundreds of thousands of people: plain packaging for soft drinks, accompanied by a ban on advertising them.

Soft drinks are one of the biggest causes of obesity, especially among children.

The consequences are well-known: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, a lifetime of discomfort.

All for the quick hit of a sugar-saturated beverage.

In years to come people will look back at the time when soft drinks were allowed to be advertised in wonder, just as now it's hard to believe that cigarette advertising was ever permitted.

It's not just ads in print and on the air. At the cola face you are bombarded with hoardings and posters before you even get inside the shop.

Once there you will find most of the fridge space is occupied by soft drinks or energy drinks - so called because they supply enough energy to light up a small town.

One of the healthiest drinks you can buy - milk - is relegated to a dingy corner of the store.

My dairy boasts a labyrinthine layout, with the milk relegated to a far corner, hidden away like a smutty magazine in the 70s.

Meanwhile, designers have put the soft drinks in bottles adorned with attention-grabbing, headache-inducing graphics - lightning bolts, explosions, rocket ships.

Imagine if those were all replaced with generic labels that simply bore the name of the drink.

The usual argument against such a move is that it interferes with certain freedoms and that people have the right to make their own choices.

Which is true, but we always limit freedoms where they might do harm. Freedoms shouldn't include the freedom to consign them to years of disease, pain and invalidism.

And indeed, people have a choice. Billion dollar corporations throw all their might into affecting that choice. We're a susceptible lot and the science of consumer manipulation is so well developed that only a conscious effort will resist it.

Of course it should always be legal to sell soft drinks. Just as it should always be legal to sell tobacco.

It would be wrong to take that freedom away. But why should it always be legal to use every single socio-psychological trick in the marketing book to persuade people to consume either of these substances?

We accepted this about tobacco when we realised the harm it did; I think the time has come for us to accept it about soft drinks for the same reason.

I feel for those parents who have gone to Hamilton City Council to demand something be done about the problem of play equipment rendered scalding hot by the summer sun.

It must be awful having so many spare hours in your day that you are able to find time for that.

When I was a boy we not infrequently encountered this phenomenon, and we developed a simple and cost effective way to deal with overheated play equipment.

We didn't use it.

Former child star Shirley Temple tap danced her way through the pearly gates this week. Her legacy lives on in everyone from Justin Bieber to those over-sexualised infants we see in American beauty pageants for toddlers. Many of these youngsters are very talented. Like the star of Daddy Long Legs and Wee Willie Winkie, they can sing, dance and act, but Temple, who retired in 1950 at the age of 22, had one gift her modern contemporaries lack - she knew when to stop.

- Herald on Sunday

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