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Chief Medical Officer’s Demand for Tax on Pop is Misguided

January 18, 2016
Chief Medical Officer’s Demand for Tax on Pop is Misguided

Put down that can of Coke, hide your Iced Cappuccinos, the health police are coming. Luckily, the health police don’t carry guns or handcuffs, they just have fancy titles, big paycheques and like to lobby the government to micro-manage which food Ontarians eat. The local head of the health police is chief medical officer for London and Middlesex County, Dr. Chris Mackie, and he thinks the cure to all your health ills is a new tax on pop.

Dr. Mackie’s demand for a pop tax came after the release of a study of the results of Mexico’s 10 per cent tax on pop, which was implemented two years ago. The study found that the tax has resulted in Mexicans consuming between 4.7 and 15 fewer calories per day – roughly the amount of calories you burn flipping the pages of a newspaper each morning.

How this is seen by Dr. Mackie as a public health success is confounding. It barely seems like a rounding error. Is it worth implementing a regressive tax on pop to spare Canadians between 4.7 and 15 calories a day?

Denmark didn’t think so. In 2011, the Danish government implemented an across the board tax on all foods with saturated fat above 2.3 percent, with the hopes of reducing fat intake. The unpopular tax lasted only one year, because it simply resulted in cross-border shopping rather than actual reduced fat consumption. They followed that up a year later with a repeal of their 80-year old pop tax for similar reasons.

The fact is that taxes are not an appropriate tool for achieving medical outcomes. Not only does the Mexican data show that these taxes are largely ineffective, but they also are the represent the worst excesses of the big government.

Dr. Mackie has started with proposing a tax on pop, but health police brass rarely stop with the misdemeanors. Surely next on his hit list will be the trendy London restaurant, Black Trumpet, for serving maple-glazed pork belly, and wild boar osso bucco with caramelized onion tart tatin. That meal can set you back over 1,300 calories, almost your entirely daily recommended intake. Should we slap a tax on that?

What about the people who lounged around over the holidays binge-watching the acclaimed Netflix documentary “Making a Murder.” Surely health police chief Mackie doesn’t approve of laying about watching television for hours on end, so should a health tax be applied to Netflix? Or to the documentary producers?

And of course who could have missed the recent reporting on the dangers of sitting from the Annals of Internal Medicine. Apparently sitting is killing us, so certainly Dr. Mackie will soon be calling for a tax on chairs and couches. Or perhaps Dr. Mackie will just want graphic warning labels of morbidly obese people plastered on the side of any couch for sale.

Think we’re being alarmist? Think again. Dr. Mackie was written for the same Ontario Medical Association that in 2012 publicly called for pictures of ulcerated feet to be mandatorily affixed to the side of children’s juice boxes. Seriously.

Instead of trying to micromanage people’s individual choices, Dr. Mackie could really earn his $320,267 salary by focusing his attention on some real public health crises in London-Middlesex. London is faced with a scourge of drug addiction issues, including rising rates of injection drug use, and the highest number of meth charges in Ontario. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition has stated that “London has a serious drug problem.”

As for a pop tax, it didn’t work in Denmark, it’s doing basically nothing in Mexico and the only thing it will make thinner for Ontarians is their wallets.

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