Diabetes Canada calling on New Brunswick premier to impose ‘soda tax’

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WATCH: Diabetes Canada is calling on the Gallant Government to implement a “soda tax” to help save lives and prevent diabetes. Adrienne South reports – Apr 7, 2017

Diabetes Canada is calling on the Gallant government to impose a tax on sugary drinks in New Brunswick, after the premier recently said he was concerned what impact the tax would have on a vulnerable sector of the province.

READ MORE: New Brunswickers want province to support healthy, active lifestyles: survey

Diabetes Canada government relations lead Jake Reid said a 20 per cent excise tax added to pop and sugary drinks could help reduce the risk of diabetes to low-income families in New Brunswick, and even save lives.

“A number of organizations, good health organizations, have come together in New Brunswick and across Canada really, to ask for a tax on sugary drinks,” Reid said.

“So this is something we’re doing in every province and previously the premier had said that they were open to the idea, and is now saying that they are not open to the idea.”

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He calls the government’s change of tune “troublesome” and said it creates a challenge for the organization.

“[Gallant] has said that he does not want to impose a tax on some of the most vulnerable in society,” Reid said.  “We know that people of lower socioeconomic status who are poor tend to buy sugary drinks, but that doesn’t really hold water for us because that’s making an assumption that people need to go to other things such as expensive milks or fruit drinks of something when they’re not drinking soda.”

READ MORE: Liberals weighing pros and cons of a soft drink tax

He said the hope is that people would eliminate sugary drinks from their diet all together and turn more towards drinking water.

“The way that we view it is that if there’s a tax on sugary drinks that people would drink less of those drinks, which is good for their health, and that they’d be able to save that money to use for other purposes and other grocery purposes.,” Reid said.

He said a ‘soda tax’ wouldn’t apply to diet beverages, only those with added sugar.

“This isn’t the be-all, end-all.  This isn’t the only thing that will curb our behaviour to assist our health, but this is one measure that we can take that we know that works,” Reid said.

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READ MORE: New Brunswickers want province to support healthy, active lifestyles: survey

Foundation Health Centre dietician Jenna Traboulsee said people who consume too much added sugar are at an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

While she doesn’t believe a tax on sugary drinks would solve the problem, Traboulsee said she often starts with explaining to clients the difference between added sugar and natural sugar.

She said a can of pop usually contains 40 grams of added sugar.

“You definitely get a lot [of sugar] in a beverage quite quickly compared to maybe food sources,” Traboulsee said.  “The more sugar you have, the more calories you’re having. So if you’re having a healthy diet on top of all the added sugar you’re going to have more calories and you’re going to gain weight or there’s other worry that you’re pushing out healthy foods and replacing them with these added sugars that give you energy but no other nutritional benefits.”
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Reid said the average Canadian is drinking more sugar in their diet than they should have for their entire day.  That’s why he said a soda tax would help change peoples’ behaviour.

“To be clear, we’re calling on a tax on sugary drinks so we’re not looking at foods or anything else.  And the reason why is that we know we can take that right out of our diet,” Reid said.

READ MORE: Should sugary drinks face a 20 per cent tax? Dietitians call for extra tax to curb obesity

“We know that people of lower socioeconomic status tend to purchase more sugary drinks and are also more impacted by chronic disease such as diabetes – they have high rates of diabetes,” Reid said.

“So we know that if we were to implement such a tax … the people who are the highest consumers are more likely to change their behaviour, which is a good thing, it’s an important thing” Reid said.  “We could both curb behaviour, increase peoples’ health, as well as raise revenue towards important health promotion activities.”

He said the revenue would go toward things such as ensuring everyone has access to safe, clean drinking water, lunch programs and breakfast programs for children in schools and helping people on assistance afford healthier groceries like fruits and vegetables.

“Over the next 25 years, if we were to implement it right across Canada, we could actually save 13, 000  lives, and we would actually save and prevent 200,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes in Canada, as well as generate in revenue 1.7 billion dollars a year with a 20 per cent excise tax,” Reid said.

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Reid said if New Brunswick decides to implement a tax, it could be a leader.

“Our message would be that this can be done and this is something that is coming that we really see an implementation of a sugary drink tax is something that’s coming to Canada and it will be happening in other provinces and it’s a matter of whether New Brunswick would like to be a leader or not,” Reid added.  “And at a time when New Brunswick and other Atlantic provinces really need to raise revenue to put towards important initiatives like health initiatives.  This is a good way to do that.”

Government Response

In an email to Global News, government spokesperson Vicky Deschenes said the government wants to ensure New Brunswickers are as healthy as possible.  She said the province’s Family Plan Framework aims to improve the lives of residents.  Deschenes said the plan addresses issues that are “the biggest determinations of overall health.”  She said wellness is one of the main priorities identified in the plan.

“There are certainly arguments that can be made as to how a tax on sugary beverages would help.  However, this is a complex issue that requires further examination and must balance potential impacts on family affordability. For the moment, our approach is to continue to focus on three wellness domains: healthy eating, physical activity and tobacco-free living, and supporting action that effects positive change, within specific across all setting (schools, communities, workplace, home),” Deschenes wrote.

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She said the government has committed to work with stakeholders over the coming months “to flesh out the specific initiatives that will be pursed as part of the Family Plan.”

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