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Health organizations renew call to tax sugary drinks

An alliance of health organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society and Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, is calling on provincial governments to tax pop and other sugary drinks.

In a position statement released last week, the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada noted that obesity and other chronic diseases caused by obesity cost Canadian taxpayers around $123 billion every year, and that taxing these products is an key part of an overall obesity prevention strategy.

Obesity, especially in children, has been an issue of growing concern, with 26 per cent of Canadian children now classified as obese or overweight. Last September, federal, provincial and territorial health ministers declared childhood obesity a "national crisis" and committed to addressing several key contributors: the protection of children from the marketing of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar and sodium, and the availability and affordability of nutritious food.

In addition to these measures, the alliance is recommending a tax on all SSB's, or sugar-sweetened beverages; those that contain sugar or other "caloric sweeteners" such as pop, sports drinks, vitamin water or fruit drinks. Specifically, it recommends an excise tax of a fixed price per ounce, rather than a sales tax per item that might encourage the purchase of less expensive brands or large containers.

"The reality is that SSBs are in a class of their own, they are a discrete category with virtually no health benefits or nutritional value - providing only empty calories, low satiety, incomplete compensation for total energy - with a very strong evidence of harm and high consumption rates. And they are easy to define, unlike some less healthy food and beverage choices.," states the position paper

The paper also argues that a SSB tax could be an important source of revenue for health promotion. The Rudd Yale Center for Food Policy and Obesity created an SSB tax calculator that shows in the state of Washington, for example, a tax of two cents per ounce on sugary drinks would generate $191,428,730 annually.

According to polls cited by the Childhood Obesity Foundation, more than 70 per cent of British Columbians support the taxation of sugar sweetened beverages if revenues are directed to health promotion.

Despite this, the issue of taxing sugary drinks hasn't gained much traction politically. Dana Larsen, who ran unsuccessfully for the NDP leadership, was the only candidate in the last provincial leadership race to propose a tax on SSBs in B.C.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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