Sugar is the new cigarettes, and last week’s sugar tax adoption comes at the right time


It was Judge Dredd who first warned me that sugar was a drug. As a kid reading 2000AD, the comic that this futuristic law maker appeared in, there were often stories set in a far-off future world where the drug of that era was sugar.

Science fiction has an unerringly accurate way of predicting the future.

The great Isaac Asimov predicted Google (he called it Multivac) and laid down the safety laws for robotics and AI. William Gibson coined the term cyberspace. Neil Stevenson’s vision of the Multiverse has evolved into virtual reality (VR). And a renowned British comic for kids revealed what society denied back then, but is increasingly admitted now: sugar is one of the most dangerous drugs in our modern society. Last week the National Council of Provinces’ select committee on finance adopted the so-called sugar tax bill, which is a good thing for our society.

Alcohol produces more violence and road deaths. But it is sugar – to which we are individually addicted and the food and beverage industry simply can’t live without –  that causes the most damage to our long-term health, imperils our youth, causes tens of thousand amputations because of diabetes, and ultimately drains the health care budget.

Sugar is the new cigarettes.

Just like smoking, sugar is a self-administered drug that we have the choice not to consume. But, it’s far more insidious than cigarettes. The food and beverage industry hide sugar in everything. Read the now legally mandated nutritional label on any product and you’ll be shocked at the sugar content.

A 200ml can of tonic has 18 grams of carbs (via sugar) in it. A slice of white bread is 15g of carbs.

A can of cold drink as we call it in South Africa has 350 times our daily sugar requirement. Just one can. Coke says there are 10.6 grams of sugar per 100ml. A can is three times that, or 35g, which Coke helpfully says is only (only) seven teaspoons of sugar.

Earlier this year I gave up sugar and carbs. I’m sure it’s easier to come off heroin than sugar. The key difference is heroin is a known drug, and people who make bread, sauces, cans of food, or anything else you’ll buy in a supermarket don’t hide heroin in their food to make it tastier. They want you to like their food, to buy it again, so they add sugar.

The individual and society impacts of sugar are now becoming mainstream knowledge. And they are horrific.

The long term damage of sugar addiction is obesity, diabetes, poor health. Sounds familiar?

Just ask those thousands of people who had a toe or foot amputated due to sugar-induced diabetes that has gone unchecked to the point an amputation is needed.

It’s an epidemic.

What most worrying, is why aren’t we all screaming with rage, protesting in the streets, marching on parliament, calling for police to chase the drug dealers away from the street corners?

Because we’re all addicted. And the drug dealers are legitimate businesses selling the food we eat. The corner dealers are registered businesses and garage stores.

In Judge Dredd’s future world, sugar junkies were at least acknowledged for their dangerous addiction. We’re moving in the right direction with the sugar tax.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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