Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Gov’t playing to private sector’s dislike of tax on sugary drinks – Marshall

Published:Monday | May 27, 2019 | 12:13 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer

The government may not be able to implement a tax on sugary drinks anytime in near future out of fear of being hit with political implications, according to chairman of the National Food Industry Task Force, Dr Kwesi Marshall.

Marshall was speaking with The Gleaner on the weekend at the Caribbean School of Media and Communication at The University of the West Indies, Mona, in St Andrew during a journalism workshop. The workshop was organised by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) and sought to explore the role of media in obesity and non-communicable disease prevention.

The Heart Foundation has been advocating for the tax.

POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS

“Most people don’t want taxes on anything. It has political ramifications as well. There is always a concern you may introduce something that may not be popular amongst a certain segment, which could be detrimental to your interests in an upcoming election. You have to tread carefully,” he said.

Marshall said beverage producers are also against the tax because it would affect their bottom line.

“One of the things they have said is they don’t know if it is going to be effective. They don’t know that if we tax sugary drinks, people are going to reduce consumption. But taxes work, and there is no question about that in terms of it reducing consumption. We are talking about long-term health here.

“Think about the cost people have to consider if they have a dialysis. Think about the cost of hypertension and the medication required. You may not be aware of them today if you are in OK health, but if you live long enough, you have to consider it for yourself, your children, parents, brothers or your sisters,” he said.

Barbara McGaw, HFJ’s manager for the Global Health Advocacy Project, was among the presenters at the workshop.

She pointed to the reformulations that drink producers in the United Kingdom were forced to implement once that government slapped them with taxation in 2018.

“They gave manufacturers one year, and they estimated a particular value of remunerations from the tax. One of the objectives of the tax is really to reformulate and reduce consumption,” said McGaw.

Sugary tax debate

- Bermuda’s government is seeking to increase tax on sugary drinks from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.

- The Bahamas has a written plan for a sugar tax. It proposed to use the plan to fund the National Health Insurance Scheme, once both government and opposition have agreed.

- Most sugary drinks are sweet and appealing, but have no nutritional value

- Some local companies have begun reformulation of sugary drinks.

- The National Task Force is seeking to develop the concept of front of package labeling.