Barbados announces new 10% tax on sugary beverages

soda cans
CC BY 2.0 J. Jimenez

In an effort to fight the Caribbean island's obesity epidemic and to change consumer behaviour, the government will put new tax into effect on August 1.

The Caribbean island of Barbados has announced a new sugar tax, effective August 1, 2015. The 10 percent tax will apply to all carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, sweetened fruit juices, and juice drinks.

According to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who made the announcement while delivering the national budget, “Beverages containing intrinsic sugars only, such as 100 percent natural fruit juice, coconut water, plain milk, evaporated milk will not be subject to the excise tax.”

Apparently the residents of Barbados are not happy with this new tax. They view it as yet another money grab by the government, but the statistics show that obesity is becoming a nationwide epidemic that must be addressed through policy changes, since personal change isn’t making enough of a difference.

In Barbados, 64 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and 31 percent of children are, too. The government spends approximately US $113 million (BBD $226 million) per year fighting diabetes and high blood pressure.

Health Minister John Boyce is quoted in the Barbados Advocate as saying that “the socio-economic cost of prevention, treatment and control of diabetes and hypertension to the economy of Barbados [is] represented by approximately five percent [of the] GDP.”

A group called the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) lauds the government’s decision: “[The HCC] congratulates [the government, the Ministry of Health, and the National Non-Communicable Diseases Commission] on this significant public health measure aimed at encouraging Barbadians to consume less sugar.”

The HCC approves of the use of financial incentives to change people’s behavior. The model has been successful in Mexico, where a similar sugar tax imposed in January 2014 has seen a reduction in the purchase of taxed beverages and an increase in the purchase of non-taxed ones, such as water.

Sugar taxes already exist in Mauritius, Samoa, Tonga, Hungary, France, Finland, and French Polynesia, all of whom tax sugary beverages “as a public health measure to reduce consumption of high sugar beverages in an attempt to tackle increasingly obesogenic environments driving skyrocketing obesity rates and related conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and cancers” (HCC).

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