The preventative taskforce has got off to a victim-blaming start. Charged with looking after prevention, with priority on fags, booze and overeating, they’ve chosen the big stick to tackle these vices — tax. Pity those who are smoking, obese, drinkers (SODs).

And sadly those who succumb to this trilogy of evils tend to be those who also suffer from the worst killer of all: poverty. These poor SODs are being asked to pay more tax. But won’t that make them poorer?

Ah, but it doesn’t make governments poorer. Some people will stop smoking but the tax increase more than offsets the loss to taxpayers, so governments get more revenue after the tax rise.

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It is argued that higher taxes have been successful in cutting smoking. Yet those most affected by higher taxes — the poor — go on smoking while the middle classes, who can better afford to smoke, give up! Strange … but there’s a useful positive message here. Why can’t the taskforce think through why the middle classes have largely stopped smoking and then see if the poor can’t be persuaded to follow that example?

On obesity I had thought the health issue was lack of fitness rather than an abundance of fat. Where’s the healthy exercise in taxpaying? It is the government who will be “lifting the weights” of higher taxes.

The middle class do-gooders might do more good — particularly in the eyes of the poor SODs — if they asked the poor SODs what they want done. Chances are SODs don’t like being SODs and want help to become non-SODs or at least less SODish.

And then there is the question of who is to blame: the victims or the perpetrators?

Why not a 100% tax on the marketing budgets of the tobacco barons, the booze peddlers and the fat food merchants, and use the revenues to educate the SODs?

Sure they’ll put their prices up but not as much, and especially if the tax structure encourages not just less marketing but less health damage; for example, the tax on junk food might be graded according to the extent of the damage it causes.

The preventative taskforce needs to rethink its early beginnings. Prevention matters. Ask the people how they want it handled. It is racist to tell Aboriginal people what is good for them. Is racism any better than classism? Is the taskforce sure that in terms of health, less smoking, drinking and eating of nasties will do enough to offset any increases in poverty?

Listen to the poor SODs! But for the poor, higher taxes? Sod’s law!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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