Trinidad Ministry to impose sugar tax on beverages

(Trinidad Guardian) The Min­istry of Health is mov­ing to im­pose a “sug­ar tax” on bev­er­age man­u­fac­tur­ers in T&T.

The rev­e­la­tion was made at a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee (JSC) on So­cial Ser­vices and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion chaired by Paul Richards, at the J Hamil­ton Room, Par­lia­ment Build­ing, Port-of-Spain, yester­day.

The JSC meet of­fi­cials from the Min­istries of Health and Ed­u­ca­tion to ex­am­ine the lev­el of child obe­si­ty and the State’s in­ter­ven­tion to pro­mote healthy lifestyles among chil­dren.

Richards not­ed that in de­vel­oped coun­tries there has been a strong lob­by by par­ents and health groups against drinks laced with sug­ar, as he en­quired what we have been do­ing to com­bat this.

In re­sponse, Dr Roshan Paras­ram, chief med­ical of­fi­cer at the Health Min­istry said: “We are look­ing in­to the sug­ar tax.”

He said the cost of eat­ing un­healthy foods was far less and more con­ve­nient than con­sum­ing healthy foods.

Paras­ram not­ed that in some coun­tries, in­clud­ing the Unit­ed King­dom, a sug­ar tax had been im­posed.

“So, for in­stance, it would be­come more ex­pen­sive to con­sume a sug­ar-sweet­ened drink than a nat­ur­al drink.”

The pro­posed sug­ar tax mech­a­nism, Paras­ram said, would look at the amount of sug­ar used in drinks.

“It is pro­por­tion­al to the amount of sug­ar in a bev­er­age—added sug­ar. So soft drinks that would have a per­cent­age of added sug­ar, the tax would be greater if you have a high­er pro­por­tion of added sug­ar and your tax will be less in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.”

Paras­ram said the high­er the sug­ar con­tent in a bev­er­age, it would cost more to the man­u­fac­tur­er. He could not give a time frame when the tax will be im­posed.

“We are work­ing the ac­tu­al fig­ures to see what it will look like in Trinidad, in this mod­el. So we have looked at the UK mod­el in terms of the tax­a­tion schemes. We are look­ing at what lev­el we can in­tro­duce it at.”

Paras­ram ad­mit­ted that the im­ple­men­ta­tion would be dif­fi­cult be­cause we have man­u­fac­tur­ers in T&T. “So we have to do a lot of stake­hold­er analy­sis and con­sul­ta­tions pri­or to go­ing for­ward. Plus, it would have to go to Cab­i­net for con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Richards not­ed that they would re­ceive a lot of “push back” on the move to im­ple­ment the tax.

He said sug­ar and salt in meals have been very ad­dic­tive, stat­ing that we need­ed to change the mind­set of so­ci­ety.

A de­crease in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty and con­sump­tion of un­healthy foods have been con­tribut­ing fac­tors to obe­si­ty, the JSC was told.

Sta­tis­tics pro­vid­ed by the Glob­al School Health Sur­vey un­der­tak­en a few years ago, Paul said, showed that T&T was lead­ing in over­weight chil­dren in the 13 to 15 age group with 33.3 per cent, trail­ing be­hind was Bar­ba­dos with 31.9 per cent, fol­lowed by Ja­maica with 25.6 per cent, and Guyana with 15.4 per cent.

T&T al­so scored the high­est on child­hood obe­si­ty in the same age brack­et.

Mem­ber Chris­tine Newal­lo-Ho­sein sug­gest­ed to Dr Ro­hit Doon, ad­vis­er, health pro­mo­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pub­lic health, to look at an in­cen­tive for man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­duce the sug­ar lev­el in drinks and snacks rather than im­pose an­oth­er tax on the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Roshan Parasram, left, speaks with Health Education director Yvonne Lewis, and Health Promotion, Communication, and Public Health adviser Dr Rohit Doon at a Joint Select Committee inquiry in Parliament.

CEO of the Na­tion­al Schools Di­etary Ser­vices Sta­cy Bar­ran ad­mit­ted that of the break­fast and lunch­es serves, stu­dents pre­ferred “fast foods”, while there was a wastage of rice, paratha and cas­sa­va, with veg­eta­bles be­ing the least con­sumed by chil­dren.

A mes­sage left yes­ter­day for di­rec­tor of So­lo Bev­er­ages Ltd Hay­den Charles was not re­turned, while hu­man re­sources co­or­di­na­tor of ad­min­is­tra­tion of soft drink man­u­fac­tur­er Caribbean Bot­tlers, An­na Theodore, said the com­pa­ny had to seek more in­for­ma­tion on the pro­pos­al be­fore speak­ing.



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