Nfld. & Labrador

Ahead of new sugary beverage tax, N.L. launches Rethink Your Drink campaign

With a controversial new sugar-sweetened beverage tax two weeks from taking effect, the provincial government has launched a new campaign urging people to reconsider their drink choices.

Opposition renews objection, says there are more important health issues to focus on

A woman in a black suit stands in front of a sign that says Newfoundland and Labrador sign, with a kids' gymnastics room in the background.
Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says the goal of a new campaign launched by the provincial government Thursday is to improve people's health. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

With a controversial new sugar-sweetened beverage tax two weeks  from taking effect, the Newfoundland and Labrador government has launched a new campaign urging people to reconsider their drink choices.

The Rethink Your Drink campaign comes a year after the provincial government announced the tax that will be implemented Sept. 1. 

At a media event Thursday to launch the campaign, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said the goal is to encourage people to make healthier beverage choices without added sugar. 

She said excess consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can contribute to increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and decreased dental health. 

The campaign aims to "ensure that children grow up in a healthier province with less chronic disease." And the government has a goal to be one of the healthiest provinces in Canada by 2031. 

Coady said the campaign aligns with recommendations of the World Health Organization, the Canadian Healthy Eating Strategy, the position statement from the Canadian Pediatrics Association and Canada's Food Guide.

She rejected a suggestion from a reporter that the tax could be discriminatory to people on lower incomes.

"I would say that's completely incorrect, because everyone in this province deserves good health," she said. "Everyone deserves good health. And it's about choice. If you want to have a pop, or a soda water, you can choose a lower-sugar option. So you have a choice."

Regulations confusing for retailers, says council

Jim Cormier, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, said they have been concerned about the tax since its announcement last year. He said they have worked with the Finance Department to figure out how the tax will be implemented and which products will be considered taxable. 

He said the legislation is confusing for retailers.

"They're trying to figure this out, it's a brand new tax. But it's been absolutely confusing and it's been troubling that we're less than a month to go and government still doesn't have answers for a lot of these questions." 

With just over two weeks between the campaign launch and the start of the tax, Cormier said there's not a lot of time for retailers to prepare for implementing the tax in their stores. For a communications campaign such as this one, he said, an earlier rollout would have been beneficial to retailers. 

After people get used to the new tax, he said, they might not necessarily see a price difference in stores among products because the government does not dictate pricing. 

He said some stores might have a price change because of the tax while others don't.

"For [the government] to try and dress this up as a health promotion initiative, I think that's a bit rich. It's a tax grab," he said.

Campaign is 'smoke and mirrors,' says PC finance critic

In a press release, PC finance critic Tony Wakeham said the campaign was "all smoke and mirrors designed to justify the Liberal sugar tax." 

Wakeham cited current boil orders, cost of living and food affordability as more important health issues to focus on.

"With too many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians without access to a family doctor, the Liberals must increase access to health care providers who can support individuals to want to make healthy lifestyle choices," he said in the release.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the first province in Canada to implement a sugar tax at this level.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Antle

Journalist

Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

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