Inconsistency in the way sugar tax is applied to products
As Valentine’s Day is upon us, there tends to be a focus on all things sweet and/or chocolate.
Coincidentally, I just finished reviewing the Consultation document produced by the Government’s Ministry of Health in connection with the proposed sugar tax. There are now six months left before this tax will become law.
What stood out most when reviewing the document — and I do intend to provide my feedback by the March 1, 2018 deadline — is how inconsistently the increased duty will be applied to products.
As an example, the tax will apply to a host of items such as white and brown sugar, icing sugar, sodas, energy drinks and white chocolate. But chocolate items containing cocoa won’t be affected.
Why? Who are the importers of items containing cocoa and why are they being protected from this tax while others are being adversely affected?
Also, milk-based items will be exempt, on the basis that nutritional guidelines are to be followed for children, and milk/milk products are a good source of nutrients ... but what about yoghurt?
It’s a milk-based product, but it also contains added sugars.
And what about the fact that our diets are too high in starch, which our bodies convert into sugars?
Who can imagine an upcoming Easter dinner without farine pie, scalloped potatoes or macaroni and cheese?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for higher taxes on our food, but let’s get real about what really causes obesity, diabetes and associated diseases.
There is no doubt that the additional burden of this tax will be passed from the importer right on through to the consumer, and perhaps the higher prices will make some people stop to think about whether they really need that soft drink or energy drink or cookie.
On the other hand, let’s stop to think about who else might be negatively impacted by this tax.
What about the jobs that this tax might kill? Will wholesalers, restaurants, bakeries and corner stores end up having to lay off staff because of higher overheads and lower sales?
Will snowball stands go out of business because of the high costs of the syrups?
What’s the likelihood that folks will choose water and give up “drink” at Cup Match because the cost of powdered drinks such as Kool-Aid and beverages like ginger beer go up by 75 to 150 per cent?
The intent is commendable, but rather than position this as a tax meant to protect us through education, let’s just recognise this for what it really will be — just another “sin tax”, already applied to alcohol and tobacco, to go into the Government’s coffers.
• Lynne Woolridge is a former One Bermuda Alliance senator and former Junior Minister of Health
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