Wilson defends sugar tax
The Minister of Health has defended the expansion of the sugar tax despite the objections of some businesses.
Kim Wilson told the House of Assembly that diseases such as diabetes are a threat to the island’s health and the public purse.
She added that the Government was aware the sugar tax alone would not reduce healthcare costs, but that it was a fundamental part of its “broader commitment” to tackle lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes.
Ms Wilson said: “The purpose of us introducing it and extending it is to try to shift the public’s choices towards healthier behaviour.
“We understand that under this tax both consumers and businesses would benefit from providing different types of products that are not necessarily laden with sugar.
“This is a perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop products that don’t contain so much sugar, that are healthier options, because consumers are looking for healthier options.”
Ms Wilson, speaking on Friday, said one of the reasons the cost of healthcare in Bermuda was so expensive was the high rates of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. She added: “We have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world and when you compare that to the number of amputations we have as a result of diabetes, we have one of the highest amputation rates.
“Seventy-five per cent of our population is overweight or obese, and these chronic conditions are largely preventable as they relate to poor diets, lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyles — I heard someone call them diseases of the affluent.”
Ms Wilson said there was a correlation between diabetes and sugar consumption, and cutting the incidence of the disease would help public health and the economy.
She told the House: “We spent last year $77.8 million on individuals with diabetes. That clearly has an adverse impact on our economy. That’s 10 per cent of our total healthcare spending.”
Michael Dunkley, a backbencher for the One Bermuda Alliance, said the levy was a “discriminatory tax that has caused job losses”.
He added: “It was implemented without adequate consultation.”
The former premier said that promises made about the tax had not been kept. Mr Dunkley asked: “What about the 15 per cent duty reduction for water? What about the money raised from that tax being put into health programmes?
“I wait to hear about those programmes in the next week.”
Ben Smith, the Shadow Minister of Social Development, Sport and National Security, questioned how much had been done to make healthier foods less expensive.
He added the tax had damaged some businesses.
Mr Smith said: “Right now when you look at it this is another area that is hitting small businesses and it’s hitting part of our population that is already struggling.”
Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker, said that people were making “a big fuss” about the tax. He added: “I’m not. People should talk to some amputees who have had both legs taken off because of diabetes. Talk to some of those who have lost their sight because of sugar. Talk to those that are on dialysis.”
Mr Burgess said that the tax was designed to “save our people”.