By Angela Harbutt
In its latest attempt at extreme social engineering, the increasingly preposterous British Medical Association (the trade union for doctors and medical students) is today demanding a 20% tax on sugary drinks “to subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables”.
What they don’t mention, but what Christopher Snowdon points out, is that:
“The BMA don’t mention that their soda tax will cost the public £1 billion a year, nor do they acknowledge that it would be deeply regressive. Indeed, they want to make it more even more regressive by taxing fizzy drinks (which are disproportionately purchased by people on low incomes) and use the money to subsidise fruit and vegetables (which are disproportionately purchased by people on high incomes). Nice.”
You may be surprised at that. Particularly when you consider that the BMA rejected a fat tax back in the summer of 2012 because:
“The idea of a fat tax on unhealthy food was rejected because it would have an unfair impact on people from a disadvantaged background.”
How is a tax on sugary drinks any different from a tax on fat? [Joined up thinking ? I don’t think so]. But then again we should not be surprised at the lack of consistency in BMA proposals, or the absence of science-based thinking when it comes to its policies. This publicity-hungry, industry-hating trade union seems to have a policy of acting first and thinking afterwards.
This, after all, is the body that secretly awards its senior staff pay hikes of up to 137% – without bothering to inform its members. And a body that seems to have scant regard for the truth – with BMA spokespeople taking to the air to spout downright lies in support of their extreme views on ecigs and smoking.
That particular trait, of “massaging the facts” to suit the narrative, is displayed yet again today with its claims on sugar. As reported by Mr Snowdon:
“In the pages of The Guardian, their spokeswoman, Sheila Hollins, resorts to flat out lying…
“We know from experiences in other countries that taxation on unhealthy food and drinks can improve health outcomes, and the strongest evidence of effectiveness is for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.”
…..”[Mr Snowdon writes] the evidence on sugary drinks, in particular, is consistent in finding little, if any, change in patterns of consumption and no change at all in ‘health outcomes’, including obesity (see here and here for a summary).”
It is also the body that has consistently promoted a whole raft of policies which are potty at best and downright dangerous at worst. Here is a taster of some of its recent ludicrous proposals
Ecigs – In December 2013 the BMA wrote to a number of football clubs urging them to end sponsorship deals with e-cigarette companies “smoking products” and to ban the use of e-cigarettes at their football grounds. [Err no e-cigs are not a “smoking product” – do at least get your facts right].
ECigs – The BMA has also been at the forefront of those demanding that all e-cigarettes are forced to be licensed medicinal product, and in the BMA’s 2014 annual meeting, it’s members called on governments to prohibit ‘vaping’ on e-cigarettes in public places where smoking is prohibited. [Hmm send them outside to smoke real cigarettes rather than vaping indoors – that will improve health [not].
Alcohol – In Jan 2015 the BMA demanded that politicians introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol. [Errm thought you were against regressive taxes? So middle classes can drink their French Chardonnay, but those on low incomes should be priced out of the market. This is prohibition for the working classes.]
Alcohol – In June 2015 the BMA called on all UK governments to introduce “clear and unambiguous” health warnings on alcohol. It also called on additional measures that “limit the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol”. [Just to be clear will you restrict when I buy my alcohol from Ocado, or when they deliver it? Oh I forgot, you only wish to restrict those on low incomes from buying alcohol, not the middle classes with a credit card and an au pair at home to take delivery].
Alcohol – In June 1025 the Scottish BMA called on a ban on all alcohol advertising on television before 9pm “watershed”. [That might have worked in the 1970’s – but honestly.. in 2015?].
Alcohol – In July 2014 BMA in Northern Ireland called for a reduced hours of sale for alcohol. [Yep, let’s drive consumption out of pubs with responsible landlords and towards drinking in the home, because that is bound to work [not].
Smoking – In June 2015 – rather than vote FOR the legalisation of cannabis, the trade union voted for a BAN on the sale of all cigarettes to those born after 2000. Yes really, by 2030 you would” need ID to prove you were 31, not 30, to buy cigarettes”. [Well it was only a matter of time before they called for prohibition… Because that obviously works [not].
… that is to list but a few of BMA’s proposals. There are many more.
The BMA demand for a tax on sugar is yet another head-line grabbing, ill-thought through, plan, all too similar to those above: demonise industry; hit those on low incomes; tax where you can and ban where you can’t. It is an archaic approach not fit for the 21st century.
It claims to want a comprehensive approach to “tackling obesity” and, it says, it sees its role as “supporting the government and other stakeholders in taking action“. Sorry, but that claim rings hollow. You only have to read the foreword of the latest booklet to see the BMA’s primary objective – to end the relationship between Government and [one of the key stakeholders] industry.
“Addressing the commercial influences that have such a strong impact on diet will be key.”
“These range from the way unhealthy food and drink products are promoted and made widely available and affordable, to industry influence on the development of food and nutrition policies.”
“Without a stronger regulatory framework, commercial interests will continue to overshadow public health interests.”
“Many of these [measures] will not sit comfortably with the government’s approach to partnership working with industry.”
“My belief is that it is commercial interests that are excessively influencing people’s decisions about their diet.”
“How can we expect a child to develop normative behaviours about eating healthily when so many of the messages they are exposed to promote the opposite?
I don’t know which supermarket BMA bigwigs shop in, but when I go into a supermarket my problem is choice, not lack of it. Alongside normal coke I am offered Diet Coke [No sugar] “Coca Cola Zero” [No sugar] “Coca Cola Life” [Lower calorie sweetened using natural sources].. oh and “Caffeine Free” [also “lower calorie”]… and all with calorie content clearly shown on the tin.. if I care to look. I can also buy in a range of sizes from 150ml mini-cans, all the way up to 1.75 litre bottles, if I wish to limit portion size at any point.
And just in case that is not enough for you Coca Cola has, since 2012, reduced the average calories per litre in its sparkling drinks by 5.3% ; reduced the calorie and sugar content of Sprite, Dr Pepper, Fanta Fruit Twist and Glaceau Vitaminwater by more than 30% ; and increased its marketing budget in zero calorie colas by 52%. All as part of its “responsibility deal” with Government. I can also go to the Coca Cola calorie counter, where I see what exercise I can do to work of the calories in one can (11 minutes of squash or 32 minutes of pilates, (or if you prefer 19 minutes of stair climbing or 70 minutes of ironing) to work off 139 calorie can of normal Coca Cola.
Where is the praise from the BMA about how much has been achieved? How much of that would have been achieved if Government had opted to demonise the industry rather than working with it?
Moving away from all things fizzy, how much more could be achieved if this Government-industry relationship was extended to e-cigs and tobacco? Think of the public health advances that could be achieved if Government worked with the tobacco industry on reduced risk products [such as PMI’s “heat not burn” products] rather than absurdly excluding them from an increasing number of conversations?
It is time for doctors to take back the BMA, sacking the self-serving fat cats at the top of this body, banging on like an old record about taxes and bans and little else. Surely they can see that the BMA is a fast-fossilizing dinosaur, desperately determined to remove all voices from the health debate except its own, regardless of the consequences. If they can’t see it, or won’t do anything about it, then public health is truly not safe in their hands.
, Coca Cola
, sugar tax