This week, a group of schoolchildren were invited to the Welsh Assembly to discuss the sugar tax. They chatted, debated, and came to the conclusion that the only way that they, and other children, could be protected from tooth decay and diabetes was by enforcing the tax.
Now, it’s great to see children being encouraged to take an interest in politics. And no, I’m not petty enough to care that a bunch of children disagree with me on a political policy (LITTLE BASTARDS!).
What I do care about, is the fact that more and more adults using the same logic as these 8-year-olds.
“The nation needs a far more intensive mix of nannying and nudging if we are to even think about defeating the modern curse of obesity,” argued Ian Birrell for The Independent.
“The specifics of sugar’s impact on our health are such that we can’t do ‘self-control’” claimed Sarah Wilson in The Guardian.
These arguments betray something about their authors, a complete lack of trust in other people.
To be clear, I don’t mean to minimise the reality of widespread national obesity: every year more than 57,000 children become obese during primary school. Nor do I mean to downplay the extent to which high-sugar drinks are bad for your health: drink enough of the stuff and you will almost certainly harm your health.
But there’s a key word in there: “you”.
Knocking back a can of Coke it won’t give your sister diabetes. Sipping from a bottle of Fanta won’t raise your neighbour’s blood pressure. And drinking three litres of Sprite a day it won’t turn your friends into lard buckets.
Drinking a soft drink is a personal choice. And we have to trust people to be able to make personal choices.
Guzzling high-sugar drinks is a health decision, like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or playing sport. It only effects the individual and the government has no business placing a ‘sin tax’ on it or any other activity.
Your body is the ultimate private property. If you can’t do what you want to it without government interference, you really don’t have freedom at all. The idea that smokers or boozers or Pepsi drinkers need to be punitively taxed into the ‘correct’ health choices is condescending in two ways.
One, it assumes that government officials know better than you how you should live your life. And two, it implies that, even if the government does know better than you, you can’t be trusted to get the message through education. That you can’t be taught and informed. It implies that the only way to drill the message through your thick skull is by punishing you.
It’s one thing when kids treat each other like kids. But it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see adults treating other adults like children.