Features Australia

Punish Pooh-bahs, not poor people

16 June 2018

9:00 AM

16 June 2018

9:00 AM

An ancient dead white bloke, Aristotle, conceived a world with natural masters and servants, writing ‘That some should rule, and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient.’ Of course, Ari saw himself as such a ruler.

We rightly ridicule politicians’ born to rule mentality. Yet we dare not question the Australian public health sector, whose publicly-funded pooh-bahs readily pontificate on how we should live our lives. These people are very much self-appointed philosopher kings and queens.

Public health NGOs like the Cancer Council and the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, government agencies like Cancer Australia and state health promotion agencies, self-righteous bodies like the Australian Medical Association, and public health talking heads are in our faces all the time, using their access to public money, tax-deductible donations and the media to punish our human urges to indulge in a little pleasurable sin, be it fags, booze, soft drink, or a punt.

The latest Big Public Health push is against sugary soft drinks. Apparently, your can or bottle of Coke is Public Enemy No 1. Manufacturers and distributors of these products are merchants of death, and we their willing dupes. The only way to protect us from ourselves, we’re told, is making sweetened soft drinks cost more with a punitive and regressive sugar tax – which activists like the Obesity Policy Coalition’s Jane Martin label cutely a ‘health levy’.

Writing in the Australian late last month, Martin attacked beverage maker and distributor Coca-Cola Amatil to justify her cause. ‘Coca-Cola is not in the business of health. It is in the business of selling drinks’, she writes. According to Martin, the AMA and other activists, a sugar tax is a magic bullet to make us all follow the National Health and Medical Research Council’s nutrition guidelines like good boys and girls. It would add to the cost of each can or bottle you buy, with the proceeds presumably recycled by Treasury as funding for the likes of the Obesity Policy Coalition.

Public health types love citing other countries where sugar, soft drink or fat taxes apply, notably Mexico and lately Britain. They claim drops in soft drink consumption, or reductions in sugar content, are due to these taxes. They don’t tell us about analyses of Mexico’s tax indicating economic and demographic factors affect discretionary income and therefore soft drink consumption. They don’t tell us large American cities, like Chicago, discarded such taxes as ineffective. They don’t tell us Denmark abolished fat and sugar taxes because not only did people consume fatty foods and sugary drinks regardless, but GST and Danish food industry jobs were lost to black markets and border-hopping for cheaper goods. And they certainly don’t tell us taxing sugary soft drinks drives people to other sweetened products like flavoured milk.

To philosopher kings and queens on cushy NGO and tenured academic salaries, a regressive sugar tax, just like the punitive 12.5 per cent annual tobacco excise rises feeding the revenue addictions of both Labor and the Coalition, is a no-brainer. To people who can’t afford such lifestyles, however, such patronising and regressive taxes punish them merely for wanting to add a little guilty pleasure to their lives.

The premise of this taxpayer-subsidised and government-condoned activism is that Big Capitalism exploits the gullible masses for its evil money-making. Pooh-bahs presume you and I are incapable of making informed judgments and decisions about what we consume, how we consume it and in what quantity.

They even think we can’t see the opera Carmen without wanting to start drinking and smoking. Furthermore, some public health talking heads are very willing to attack, denigrate and even sue those who dare question them in mainstream and social media, revealing eggshell egos when even ordinary punters return their taunts, let alone when qualified scientific and medical experts make reasoned, evidence-based dissent from their pooh-bah views.

Itself an industry raking in hundreds of millions of taxpayer and donation dollars, Big Public Health’s mainstream and social media clout intimidates most politicians and commentators from publicly challenging the pooh-bahs and their world view.

Under pooh-bahs’ baleful eyes, even supposedly conservative governments happily attack personal liberties by taxing and banning anything deemed sinful by the public health lobby, but also close their minds to new developments disrupting Big Public Health’s prohibitionist mindset. Just look at how nicotine vaping is being attacked in Australia by federal and state governments, despite the growing weight of positive evidence that it poses far less risk to health than deadly combustible cigarettes. Convinced quitting smoking entirely is the only option, Big Public Health activists seemingly would let smokers die rather than vape.

It’s drinking, smoking, eating and gambling to excess that’s the killer, not the things themselves. Instead of punishment and prohibition, Big Public Health should apply the teachings of another dead Greek bloke, Cleovoulos of Lindos.He advocated pan metron ariston – moderation in all things – because he knew most people can and do make wise judgments for themselves. Like old Cleo but unlike its tormentors Jane Martin and the AMA, Coca-Cola Amatil recognises Australians are sentient beings, announcing it’s reducing the sugar content of its soft drinks not because of a feared sugar tax, but consumer sentiment. The company knows the customer rules, not the pooh-bahs.

It’s high time to revolt against the puritanical rule of Big Public Health’s philosopher kings and queens.

Rather than penalise ordinary Australians with product bans and regressive taxes at the behest of self-regarding elites, target the pompous pooh-bahs who suck at the public teat. Governments should not only dare to question the sweeping claims of Big Public Health, but withdraw taxpayer funding and tax-deductible status from the likes of the Cancer Council, Obesity Policy Coalition and the Council on Smoking and Health.

Taxpayers should not be forced to bankroll their blatantly political and activist New Puritanism.

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