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« Greetings from Brussels | Main | Plain packaging: what do you think of the evidence so far? »

Sugar tax and other anti-obesity measures – how the media reacted

When I arrived in Brussels last night and turned on the television my heart sank.

There, on Sky News, were Jamie Oliver and Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Common's Health Committee, and they were lecturing me.

Jamie was in the House telling everyone to eat less sugar. And in a well-coordinated manoeuvre, Wollaston was promoting her committee's latest report which supports Oliver's demand for a sugar tax and other anti-obesity measures including a pre-watershed ban on so-called junk food ads.

The disturbing thing is this. I know lots of people and organisations that are opposed to such measures but check the media reports and you'll find very few dissenting voices, even though Wollaston's own committee was less than unanimous in its recommendations.

Two examples. The BBC (Tax on sugary drinks backed by MPs) quoted Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright but you had to scroll to the bottom of a long article to find it.

The Telegraph (MPs back sugar tax and ban on junkfood ads during X-factor) also quoted Wright but lined up against him were Wollaston; Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK; Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum; and Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair of Action on Sugar.

The paper also referenced Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, reporting his view that many retailers would welcome – yes, welcome! – Government sugar reduction targets as long as they were compulsory.

Translated it means the BRC wants a 'level playing field', a stunt last pulled when the British Beer and Pub Association told the Government it would support a smoking ban as long as there was no exemption for private members' clubs.

Ignoring groups that oppose a sugar tax and other anti-competitive measures, health editor Laura Donnelly also informed readers that:

A coalition of almost 20 groups has also been formed to demand a 20 per cent sugar tax and further action. Members include the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health

We did our best, I promise you. I counted responses from at least five organisations – the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute, The Freedom Association, Conservatives for Liberty and Action on Consumer Choice – that were vehemently opposed to government regulation in this area.

You would be hard pressed to know, though, such was the lack of column inches or airtime given to our responses.

Mark Littlewood and Chris Snowdon (IEA) appeared on Sky News and Five Live respectively. Rob Lyons (Action on Consumer Choice) also popped up Sky News (see above), but that was about it. For anything else you had to go online and search.

For the record, here's the Action on Consumer Choice response:

Campaigners have criticised the Commons' Health Committee following the publication of a report arguing for a range of measures to tackle childhood obesity.

Action on Consumer Choice, which campaigns for freedom of choice around eating, drinking, smoking and vaping, argued that the committee's proposals are illiberal and regressive.

A tax on sugary drinks, it said, would have limited impact on consumption while forcing people who are less well-off to pay a bigger share of their income to buy and consume many popular drinks.

Rob Lyons, campaigns manager at Action on Consumer Choice, said: "The causes of childhood obesity are complex and difficult to tackle. But the effect of a sugary drinks tax is quite simple. It will force everyone, regardless of their weight or health, to pay more.

"Poorer people will be forced to choose between sacrificing more of their limited income or effectively facing a soft drinks prohibition. That is patronising, unfair and illiberal and, in all probability, utterly ineffective."

See also Sugar: It's Choice Restriction Week! (Action on Consumer Choice).

Also worth reading: Anti-sugar fanatics are watching how many biscuits you buy, Chris Snowdon's piece for Spectator Health.

Update: The ASI's Kate Andrews was on LBC.

Below: Rob Lyons of Action on Consumer Choice on Sky News

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Reader Comments (6)

Sugar? Seems like only yesterday it was salt.
Some people will choose to smoke. Some will die youngish, some will die very old. Some folk will choose to eat and drink a lot of what they like, some will die youngish, some will die very old. This could go on for ever with everything, right?
Then there are those who will live what the state decrees to be a safe, protected and healthy lifestyle. Surprisingly, some will die youngish and some will die very old.
However, it’s a 100% certainty we’re all going to die and as the last lap gets underway, some will be wondering what they missed and why, while others will be wishing they’d done just that little bit more.
So to all those, ‘it’s bad for you - I don’t like it so you can’t do it - it’s not healthy - we have to stop it now!’ fellows, let me assure you that while you’re possibly just passed ‘start’ on life’s highway and it looks like a long, almost never ending road ahead with time aplenty to foist your pettiness upon others, trust me, when you get to my end of the road, which, by the way, is cluttered to hell an’ back with tin cans, and look over your shoulder, back down the road of life, you’ll be amazed to see just how short a journey it actually was. Then you’ll realise, too late, what a complete and total waste of your brief time it was being so miserable, trying to foist your misery on others and hating the enjoyment of those who had a little zest for life and were attempting, against all the odds, to enjoy their brief moment in the sun.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 8:41 | Unregistered CommenterMac

@ Mac

Applause, applause.

Succinctly put, and oh, so true.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 12:43 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

The news last night featured a report on dinosaur footprints that paleontologists have found on Skye. They reckon they're 170 million years old and it was one of those moments when it hits home just what a drop in the ocean of time our three score year and 10 is - indeed a "brief moment in the sun".

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 16:30 | Unregistered CommenterJay101

Can of coke 36g of added sugar.
Jamie Oliver's Eton mess, 38.7g of sugar per serving; at least 31.5 of which is "added" - not that that makes any difference.

“Eton mess is such a classic old-school dessert – whack this in the middle of the table and everyone will go crazy! ”

What a big, fat hypocrite.

Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 12:06 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

I'm really glad that Sarah Wollaston, with her nasty interfering Nanny State opinions isn't my MP !

Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 16:32 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

Those who dictate how we should live are fascists. It is laughable how western politicians and their paid from tax quangos cannot admit it. Politicians must remember that there would be no tax without business. Unbalancing it to satisfy a few health quacks doesn't work, and I refuse to pay for politicians mistakes.

Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 16:52 | Unregistered Commentergray

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