Roughan on public health campaigners


Why else, the campaigners ask, would rational people fail to do everything in their power to improve ?

Well, I can think of a reason but I’m running a risk in advancing it, because health campaigners are so convinced of the righteousness of their cause they can only conclude that anybody who questions it also has a vested interest. I’m constantly surprised how quickly these people, who must be good-natured, public-spirited, socially responsible and intellectually stimulated, play the man, not the ball.

The first thing they do when challenged is to call into question the challenger’s motive. If the person works for a think tank that is privately funded it will almost certainly have the relevant industry among its sponsors. Expose that and health professions see no need to address the argument. Their own reliance on grants awarded for research that tends to reinforce an institutional view is, in their view, not the same thing.

You see this constantly playing the man, not the ball. They are very bad at being able to debate ideas on their merits, and resort to personal attacks on motives.

The reason governments don’t regulate and tax these vices to near extinction, I’d suggest, is that while health is important, it’s not all important. Other things are important too, such as the integrity of the tax system. Health professionals may be aghast at that suggestion but tax principles are socially important.

We have a simple, fairly comprehensive tax on consumption that should not be made more variable, complicated and compromised without very good reason. Discouraging sales of fizzy drink or hamburgers is not, to my mind, sufficient reason.

The soda tax idea is a great example. Would massively complicate the tax system, and would have a near zero impact on obesity as calories from sugary non alcoholic drinks make up a minuscule 1.8% of average daily calories.

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