Danielle Smith: To tax or not to tax? The great sugar debate

Should sugary drinks be taxed?.
Should sugary drinks be taxed?. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

You don’t need to work hard to convince me that we should all try to reduce our refined sugar consumption, but a sugar tax on pop is the wrong way to do it.

There is a renewed effort by the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention to add a 20 per cent sugar tax to the sale of sugary drinks. They say it will cut health care costs by $1.1 billion and raise $3.5 billion in revenue over the next 25 years.

Here is some personal background: I was a convert to the Atkins Diet in the 1990s, when people were still ridiculing Dr Atkins for claiming that sugar was to blame for more deaths, chronic illness and obesity than any other cause. Back then the war on fat was in full swing and as food processors reduced the fat content in their products, they compensated for the loss in flavour by adding more sugar. Talk about self-defeating.

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LISTEN: North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center and sugar tax opponent David Clement

In any case, as a convert to the low-sugar cause, every few months I try to go a week or so without refined sugar, refined flour, alcohol and high glycemic fruits just for good measure. That’s why I understand the newfound enthusiasm for waging war on sugar. But there is little reason to target canned pop in particular. Go online and you’ll find some of the highest-content sugar products are items you probably think of as “good for you” and may even eat every day: fruit yogurt, granola bars, canned soup, tomato sauce, salad dressings, bread and dried fruit are some of the worst culprits. Where’s the sugar tax on those? In addition, orange juice and other fruit juices have almost as much sugar as pop. No tax on them, apparently, because they are a source of other nutrients. So, as one listener asked, why not just add Vitamin C to Coke then?

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The evidence that pop taxes reduce pop sales is pretty thin. The evidence that it reduces overall calorie consumption and obesity is weaker yet. The only thing it seems to do for certain is raise revenues for government.

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LISTEN: Dietitians of Canada Executive Director and sugar tax proponent Karen Boyd on the benefits of a sugar tax

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