19 Feb, 2016

activematters opinion | Obesity and physical activity

activematters | 23 February 2016

What is the difference between Sugar and Tobacco – when it comes to government intervention!

Given the delays in the release of the Obesity Strategy, the unlikely introduction of a UK Sugar Tax and the funding of the Change 4 Life by the food and soft drinks industry – the perfect example of misdirection and delay!

Continuing misrepresentation of what constitutes ‘diet’ or ‘low(er) in sugar’…the parallel with tobacco is not that far fetched!!

The bigger question remains – WHY does Physical Activity continue to be treated as the ‘poor relation’ in all documentation/initiatives/strategy around children and obesity prevention? The only report that clearly states the critical role played by physical activity is that published recently by the WHO. We have the CMO guidelines for young children’s physical activity -ratified by the Chief Medical Officer.  Obviously the medical community have made the connection – so why is there no ‘follow through’? Why are these guidelines (much stronger than ‘recommendations’) not considered as mandatory – implemented by those in Education – and under the aegis of Ofsted?’

Push the tobacco industry to change through economic incentives

Public health measures (including PH campaigns over the years – across countless countries) to reduce smoking would have more success if policy makers intervened to curb the vast profitability of the tobacco industry, say researchers.

The lucrative nature of the cigarette market, dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned companies, results in a vigorous fight against any new public health measures that may disrupt their profit-making.

Lessons from other industries

The researchers from our School of Management and the University of Ottawa say governments should look to the success of past policies that have transitioned other industries towards products that are less harmful to health, such as the switch from leaded to unleaded petrol.

‘Carrot and stick’ incentives (Cameron is proposing a ‘carrot’ strategy for sugar, we propose ‘stick’ – a BIG ONE)!

The researchers suggest a new approach to competition policy and a range of ‘carrot and stick’ incentives including:

  • tax differentials, which place combustible products, like cigarettes, at a marketplace disadvantage compared to less hazardous alternatives like e-cigarettes
  • giving companies tax credits for the development of lower risk products
  • more direct measures such as price controls and product licensing that favours lower risk products

Effective regulation of the industry to curb profits would create new appeal in less harmful commercial opportunities, such as e-cigarettes, thereby promoting an escape route for corporations and removing their need to fight so hard for the continuation of current tobacco markets.

There’s a new Big Tobacco — and one industry is determined to silence its critics

Full opinion and recommendations