Crazy in love with fizzy drinks: Why sugar tax (or a burping Beyoncé) is needed to break the addiction

One in four British men and women are obese - and we're all paying for it

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Cut to a lustrous Beyoncé, mid break, as she turns to camera: “Everybody knows there’s no joy quite like cracking open a cold can of Pepsi, gulping it down” [she cracks and gulps] “maybe having one or two or three thousand more” [she ages] “definitely not stopping” [she ages some more] “then watching your teeth yellow, your gut widen, and a concerned expression shade your doctor’s face as he gently lets on how corrupt your insides have become” [she uglifies at high speed, before burping despondently]. “Enjoy!”

Unfortunately I don’t have the budget or CGI nous to produce this guerrilla advert – which I hope you’ll agree is not without artistic merit – at least not in time for Sunday’s NFL Super Bowl. Beyoncé fans won’t be disappointed though. The Queen of Pop is scheduled to appear in person, as the face of Pepsi, and belt out solos to an audience that consumes 45 gallons of carbonated syrup a year per person – or in layman’s terms, “probably too much.”

Born in the 1850s, sugary fizzy drinks have become one of 2013’s problem topics. Around 1.5 billion adults are today considered overweight. Nearly a quarter of British men and women are obese. Soft drinks – which contain even less nutritional value than a Big Mac – stand accused by an increasingly vociferous lobby of fat-creation on an industrial scale. One prime objector is Sustain, a farming charity, who earlier this week roused the support of 60 other public bodies and called on the UK Government to introduce a “sin tax”  of 20p per litre on sugary drinks.

The demand has ruffled feathers. Libertarians respond (in disgust) that nobody was ever fooled into thinking Dr Pepper a medical man, and so long as nobody else is harmed, people should be left to drink what they please. To their eyes intervention would constitute another example of snobby state nannying – one that would hit the poor (regular cola-drinkers) more than the rich (Appletiser at worst).

Skinny, temperate drinkers might agree. But looked at practically, as more than an abstract question of individual freedom, holes in the libertarian logic show up. By avoiding any attempt at regulation of the soft-drink industry, governments don’t simply back their citizens’ wisdom of beverage-choice, they grant corporations the freedom to profit massively from marketing drinks that damage public health – a freedom for which the NHS (a.k.a the taxpayer) must pick up the tab, paying £6bn a year to combat diet-related illnesses, according to Sustain.

In New York a combative Mayor Bloomberg has banned the sale of “supersize” drinks. Whether or not a tax is the right option we should seriously consider similar moves. And if public opinion still needs a nudge in the right direction, copyright is hereby granted to anybody rich and artistically serious enough to film “The Beyoncé Burp”.