Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Why Polly shouldn't have that lolly

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Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Photo / Hagen Hopkins

Future generations will look back with horrified incredulity at how we allowed a cartel of international drug pushers to promote and sell poison legally.

They use our television, radio and print media and buy sophisticated promotions aimed at vulnerable victims. Once hooked on to a lifetime addiction, each will spend up to $100,000 over their lifetime for a product that has a 50 per cent chance of killing them.

I'm talking about tobacco, of course. Heroin and cocaine have a minuscule effect by comparison. The modest change of banning advertising and sports promotion and hiding cigarettes away in stores is applauded. The fight isn't over but it's in the home straight.

This brings us to the newest front, sugar. At least with tobacco everyone knows it kills every second customer and destroys the health of the surviving half. But sugar is fed by loving parents in ignorance to babies, turning them into addicts.

It makes us obese and it's poured into everything. Our kids are hooked before they go to school. There's good reasons every kids' TV programme associates fun with soft drinks, ice-cream and lollies. A kid can't go into a supermarket without bright sugar-packed products on shelves at eye level. Chocolates and lollies are stacked at the checkout counters just in case parents haven't been worn down enough by whining kids.

And then we all wring our hands about New Zealand having the worst obesity and health problems, and the billions it costs us to manage the destruction of people's bodies.

Right-wing politicians and sugar barons tell us that it's the sugar addict's fault. Apparently, when kids are flooded with sugar advertisements and inducements they should use their free will and informed judgment and just take the odd treat rather than stuff their face. Telling a toddler that one sugar treat is for being good surely means the more they get the better they must be?

Once they get through their teenage years when every ice cream and fruit drink promises they'll be popular and good looking, they get to spend the rest of their lives joining the diet industry and are told it's all their fault because they lack self-worth and self-control.

The campaigners who won the war on tobacco have now moved on to the evil of sugar. I support them. But their solutions are wrong. They say taxing sugar discourages sugar eaters. It doesn't. It just makes the addicts poorer.

Otago University advocates say their research shows that for every tax of 20 per cent, consumption reduces by 1 per cent. This is good news? No it's not. It's insignificant.

Sugar should be regulated. Forcing the addicts to pay more for something they can't stop isn't fair.

We must start with the kids. Educate them about why sugar is bad. Then ban advertising it to them. Eliminate sugar products in school canteens and events. Put clear sugar amounts on every label.

Of course the corporate pushers wouldn't be able to make billions off the unwitting masses. It's easier to wring our hands and blame the victims than deal with the real cause.

Sometimes you really do need a nanny state to protect the children from harm. Particularly when parents are ignorant of the danger from the hucksters asking if Polly wants a lolly.

Clarification: Last week Matt McCarten said the Iwi Leadership Group hosted a Waitangi breakfast. It was in fact hosted by Prime Minister John Key.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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