Gruesome health warnings on cigarette packets are now in force. Should similar warnings be mandatory on fizzy drinks? Dentists tell us today they want them. The NZ Dental Association thinks graphic images of rotting teeth on a bottle or a can will help to reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.
Rotting teeth might not be the most effective image. They say a 600ml bottle of Coca Cola contains nearly 64g of sugar. Imagine if that quantity had to be represented by a stripe of little white crystals around the container to the precise thickness of the quantity of sugar in it. Few might comfortably drink that.
An image of rotting teeth might cause consumers to clean their teeth after the drink but that would do nothing for obesity or type two diabetes. A graphic heap of those little white crystals might drive home the deeper message.
Soft drinks are already supposed to carry nutritional information including how much sugar is inside. But as the Dental Association spokesman says, "you need a university degree and a calculator to work out how many teaspoons of sugar there are in some of these drinks".
There are 13 teaspoons of it in that 600ml bottle of Coke. Think about that. If anybody put 13 teaspoons of sugar in the same quantity of coffee — or six teaspoons in a normal cup of coffee — they would have a problem.
So why do we tolerate it in soft drinks?
That fact that consumers of these drinks are mostly children makes it worse. Coupled with less exercise and more sitting at screens, their sugar intake is a major cause of today's incidence of child obesity.
More exercise might fix obesity without the need for graphic reminders on the packaging but as the Dental Association says, "You can't exercise your way out of the tooth decay epidemic." Or diabetes.
Nobody is claiming package warning alone will make much difference. Campaigners against sugar want it taxed too, especially in soft drinks which would be the easiest to tax. But how much would the price need to rise to make much difference. Soft drinks are very cheap, cheaper than bottled water in shops.
Researchers disagree on whether a sugary drink tax has made any difference to consumption in places that have imposed one.
But a powerful graphic image would do not harm and might do some good.