Cautious welcome for new sugar tax
The Bermuda Diabetes Association welcomed the inclusion of a sugar tax and a cut in duty rates for healthy items in the 2018-19 Budget yesterday, but emphasised the need for education on healthy eating habits.
Chairwoman Debbie Jones said: “Education is key and education about eating healthy needs to be in the schools, workplace, grocery shops and restaurants.
“The public needs to be educated about the toxic effects of sugar and why it is important to drink water and eat healthy.”
She called for posters with instructions on how to read food labels and recommendations for daily added sugar intake.
It came after David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, said: “In line with the Ministry of Health's consultation paper, it is proposed to introduce the sugar tax as an increase in the rate of duty on a defined group of items. The sugar tax will be finalised after the consultation period ends on March 1, 2018.”
He added the Government would reduce or eliminate duty on healthy food items to offset the expected increase in customs duty from the sugar tax.
Mr Burt said: “Accordingly, duty will be reduced from 5 per cent to 0 per cent for eggs, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, turnips, oranges and apples. A portion of the revenues from the Sugar Tax will be earmarked for educational programmes to improve health outcomes.”
Ms Jones said having the Government on board was key and welcomed the proposed sugar tax while also applauding the Government for reducing the tax on health items.
Ms Jones said: “Bermuda, like so many countries around the world, is facing a diabetes epidemic which is threatening the healthcare dollar not to mention the quality of life of so many who have, or are at risk of, type 2 diabetes.”
She added: “Education is key but often it takes a government intervention for the public to realise that this must be important.
“Some people will say that reducing sugar intake should be personal responsibility. It still will be personal choice but it will cost more to drink sugary non-nutritious drinks than it will to drink water.”
Sara McKittrick, BDA diabetes educator, said she was happy to see that a portion of the revenue would be used for educational programmes.
She added: “An ideal outcome would be that people began to make improved decisions based on knowledge and understanding in an effort to improve their health.”
Bruce Barritt, general manager of John Barritt & Son, pointed to adverts run by the company last week, which stated the sugar tax is a bad idea.
The soft drinks distributor said it agreed that Bermuda has a serious problem with obesity and accompanying chronic health issues.
It added: “We commend the Government for tackling the matter, but disagree with placing the blame for this situation wholly on the consumption of sugar and particularly on sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Obesity is a public health issue of serious concern and if we want to get serious about it, we need to start with education to influence people's behaviour and habits, not taxes.”
“Obesity is a complex issue, and no single food or beverage category alone is responsible for the obesity crisis. Consequently, a tax on a single food or beverage type will not solve the obesity crisis.”
The company also questioned why imported baked goods and chocolate are not included in the sugar tax.
John Wight, Chamber of Commerce president, shared his personal view on the sugar tax because a chamber task force is examining the proposal.
He said: “It is not surprising that the proposed sugar tax is catching the attention of many people.
“In my view, the bigger discussion that needs to take place first is around the health of our community, which statistics show is not good.
“The obesity issue in Bermuda is alarming, and is manifested in so many health issues such as diabetes and high rates of certain cancers.
“Good health is a function of exercise and a proper diet. I would like to see us develop a national strategy on getting healthy followed by a plan of action to make this happen.
“Reduced healthcare costs, reduced absenteeism at work — there are so many positive results that Bermuda can benefit from if we approach it from the top down.”