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Senators back sugar tax

No quick fix: Crystal Caesar

Senators unanimously backed Bermuda’s sugar tax yesterday as a “good first step” in promoting healthier lifestyles.

However, Crystal Caesar, Junior Minister of Home Affairs and Economic Development, said the tax would not be a solution to all the island’s health problems.

The Progressive Labour Party senator said: “The sugar tax will not fix obesity on its own.

“It will not eliminate lifestyle-induced chronic disease by itself.

“The sugar tax will not magically reduce healthcare costs.

“But it is a fundamental part of the broader government commitment to reduce these conditions, which are costing us so dearly.”

Money generated by the tax has been earmarked to promote healthy lifestyles.

Ms Caesar estimated that $10 million could be raised by the sugar tax in a full year at the 75 per cent duty rate.

Michelle Simmons called the tax a “good first step” in discouraging consumption of excess sugar.

However, the independent senator added: “We have many more to make.”

She said that Bermuda should not be apologetic about the tax.

Ms Simmons explained: “I know that it is something that will negatively impact on people who cannot afford to pay the increased tax — but isn’t that what we want?

“We want people to stop purchasing food and drinks that have extremely high sugar content.”

One Bermuda Alliance senator Nandi Outerbridge was worried about the “unintended consequences” of the tax that would “hurt businesses”.

Ms Outerbridge said: “Small businesses, black businesses, Portuguese businesses, small bakeries — what are we going to do to ensure that those businesses are not hurt by this Bill?”

She was also concerned about a promised drop in the duty on water.

Ms Outerbridge asked: “My question is why not? And when will the duty on water be decreased?”

She said that she did not believe that the sugar tax would “make the difference that we want to see”.

Ms Outerbridge added: “Maybe initially — but not long term.”

PLP senator Anthony Richardson agreed there would be unintended consequences of the tax.

However, he added: “But I hope that we are able to think more along the lines of the big picture.”

Mr Richardson said the Government had put in place an exemption process for manufacturers, including business owners.

He described the sugar tax as “appropriate and timely” legislation that would impact everyone.

Mr Richardson added: “This should represent a fundamental change in lifetime habits for all of us.

“What we decide today will have an impact on every household.”

The 75 per cent sugar tax was originally scheduled to take effect this month.

An amendment to the Bill brought to Parliament by Kim Wilson, Minister of Health, will introduce a 50 per cent duty rate on sugar on October 1.

The tariff will rise to 75 per cent next April.