Increase the ten per cent tax on sweet drinks to 30 per cent!
This was one of the recommendations made to Government last night by one of this island’s most respected medical practitioners, who is concerned that since the levy was introduced back in 2015, there has been no noticeable change in local sweet drinks consumption.
Delivering the final lecture in the 50th independence anniversary series hosted by the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Sir Henry Fraser, who is the retired dean and current Professor Emeritus of the faculty, also suggested that Government should consider additional “taxes on unhealthy foods and drinks, including oily and salty foods and fast-foods like French fries”.
Sir Henry, who is the founding director of Barbados’ Chronic Disease Research Centre, also called for incentives such as “no VAT on healthy foods” to encourage healthy eating.
“This is a no-brainer,” he said, while arguing that there should also be a collaborative effort between the ministries of education and health to control the sale of junk food at school gates.
In this regard, he appealed to the authorities to abolish the “entirely inappropriate scandal” of allowing one local fast-food chain to advertise in schools.
Describing such advertisements as “totally unethical”, the professor said it was his understanding that steps were being taken to resolve this issue.
Given the high rate of non-communicable diseases among Barbadians, Sir Henry, who is an Independent Senator, said there was no need for any further dilly-dallying on the sweet drinks tax, which he believes should be increased by at least 20 per cent to “30 per cent or more”.
“It must be significant to make a difference. Ten per cent increases are just taken in stride every day,” he argued.
In making the announcement during his Budget presentation two years ago, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had said that one of the primary objectives of introducing the levy on sweetened beverages, including carbonated soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices with sweeteners, was to get Barbadians to lower their caloric intake.
Sinckler had also promised that a review would take place in about two years time to determine its effect on the behaviours of producers, importers and consumers, and whether it should be extended or intensified.
However, just last week Minister of Health John Boyce admitted that the tax had not yielded the desired effect, as Bajans were still drinking large quantities of their preferred sugary beverages.
In view of this situation, Sir Henry was adamant Tuesday night that Government needs to step up its response.
“Until we have a better understanding of how to change behaviour, one method is clearly successful,” he said, while pointing out that “significant taxes on alcohol and cigarettes have a significant impact on use”.
He also suggested that such taxes could be further increased.
As for the worrying consumption of sweet drinks, Sir Henry said it had been proven elsewhere that this could be deterred, “but not by a tiny token ten per cent tax”.
“Barbadians are accustomed to these kinds of increases. Like gasoline, every time you go to the pump, it’s ten per cent up,” he reasoned, while stressing that the sweet drinks tax must be implemented at a rate of “at least 30 per cent or more”.