Anti-sugar campaign not so sweet, opponents say

Even Coca-Cola's New Zealand boss will be at the anti-sugar meeting. Photo credit: Getty

Is sugar the new tobacco? Health campaigners are painting it that way.

Auckland Hospital on Monday will host a symposium, Taxing Sugary Drinks: An Election Issue, where doctors and health academics will discuss the need for a sugar tax to curb growing obesity.

"Sugary drinks increase the risk of developing unhealthy weight, and… puts you at risk of type 2 diabetes," organiser Gerhard Sundborn of anti-sugar group FIZZ told Newshub.

"Over 250,000 New Zealanders have type 2 diabetes."

Even Coca-Cola's New Zealand boss Sandhya Pillay will be there, talking about the company's sugar-free products.

Dr Sundborn believes taxing between 50 cents and $1 per litre of fizzy drink would be enough to put a bitter taste in consumer's mouths.

"The Government needs to show some leadership and step up and tax these drinks, because we know that sugar and high sugar consumption in the form of sugary drinks is very detrimental to the health of our children," he says.

"It's known to cause similar responses to pleasure centres in the brain as drugs of abuse do. You've just got to look at your children - they love sugar, and if there's anything on the table or at parties, they just go after it. It's a no-brainer that it is highly addictive."

But the Taxpayers' Union says there's no comparison between tobacco and sugar. Executive director Jordan Williams told RadioLIVE's First at Five FIZZ has ulterior motives.

"You can have very clearly a consumer-safe amount of sugar. The difference is with tobacco, any consumption is bad. To make the parallel just shows that this isn't an objective campaign - it's a political campaign."

New Zealand has the third-highest rate of obesity in the OECD.

Mexico's sugar tax has seen sales of sugary drinks fall around 15 percent in two years, but it's still too early to say if it's had a positive impact on health outcomes.

The New Zealand Government has repeatedly ruled out introducing similar taxes here. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman last year said there was "no evidence" sugar taxes work.

New Zealand Dental Association spokesperson Dr Rob Beaglehole said he had to remove all of an 18-month-old's teeth, thanks to sugary drinks.

NZN / Newshub.