British Columbia

B.C. should tax sugary drinks, says diabetes association

The Canadian Diabetes Association wants B.C to take the lead on a sugary drinks tax — as it campaigns for a federal tax.

The association says research shows consumption of sugary drinks goes down, if tax goes up

The Canadian diabetes association is calling for a new federal tax on sugary drinks because of epidemic levels of Type 2 diabetes. It says a new tax would reduce sugary drink consumption, a risk factor in developing diabetes. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

The Canadian Diabetes Association wants B.C. to introduce a tax on sugary drinks to deter people from drinking the beverages — in the hope of reducing diabetes rates.

"B.C. is leading in healthy eating and lifestyle and it would be great if B.C. would take the initiative to introduce a tax on sugar-sweet beverages," Dr. Jan Hux,  chief scientific advisor at the association, told CBC.

She presented the idea at the provincial government's select standing committee on finance and government services on Monday. 

The request comes several weeks after the association launched a national campaign calling on federal leaders and politicians to add a tax to the sale of sugary drinks and beverages. 

"The number of Canadians living with diabetes has doubled in the last twelve years, and that growth continues with a new person diagnosed every three minutes," she said. 

The tax would apply to traditional sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, lemonades, some coffee drinks and energy drinks. 

Mexico, France and some U.S. states have already applied taxes to sugar-sweetened drinks. Mexico in particular has seen great results, said Hux.

"Mexico applied a 10 per cent tax to sugar-sweet beverages in January of 2014 that lead over the year to a six per cent decrease in consumption and it was shown that people were drinking water instead.

Doctor Jan Hux, chief science officer with the Canadian diabetes association says a federal tax on sugary drinks is an important step towards lowering Type 2 diabetes. (MIke McArthur/CBC)

"Importantly the reduction was 9 per cent in low-income communities and I say that is important because we know that in Canada the risk of diabetes is highest in low-income communities. The tax seems to have its biggest impact in communities that it is most needed," she said. 

While the association believes a tax on the drinks is an important driver for reducing consumption, there also needs to better nutritional labeling and public education. 

According to the association, an estimated 10 million Canadians have diabetes or pre diabetes, and it says the disease costs Canadians $14 billion in health care and economic costs.

The condition can cause strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure and other health complications.

Beverage industry reacts

The Canadian Beverage Association said taxation isn't an effective tool when it comes to helping consumers make healthy choices. 

"Evidence shows that education, not increased grocery cart taxes, is the key to improving public health, and the beverage industry has strong programs that support calorie awareness," said Jim Goetz, association president, in an e-mailed statement. 

The association contacted CBC on Sept. 24 to share its view point on the matter. 

The industry says it already has adequate nutritional labels and provides consumers with many zero-calorie options to help consumers balance their sugar intake. 

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Call for a sugary drinks tax with the CBC's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.


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