Proposed tax on sugary beverages draws mixed signals from Albertans and health experts

Craving an ice-cold pop? If one advocacy group gets its way, you might need more change for the vending machine than expected.

The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention (APCCP) is putting pressure on the provincial government to establish a tax on sugary drinks.

This coalition is made up of various researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and organizations advocating for policy changes designed to reduce chronic disease in Alberta.

The group hopes the so-called sugar tax would reduce health problems within the province. More than two million Albertans have been diagnosed as obese or overweight with significant health problems such as diabetes or heart disease, according to Alberta Health Services reports.

Although the tax has not been implemented, health groups are pushing Premier Jim Prentice to see the proposal through as it could also generate additional revenue for the province.

This tax would see a 50-cent increase per litre on sugary drinks including soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks and any beverages with added sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup.

Produced by Tara Rathgeber

Rachelle McGrath, education team lead for Mount Royal Wellness says case studies show that sugary drinks increase the risk of diabetes.

“There was one study that looked at individuals consuming sugar-sweetened beverages and it found they had a 26 per cent greater risk at developing type-two diabetes,” says McGrath. “This was compared to the individuals in the lowest group for the consumption of the sugar-sweetened beverages.”

McGrath says the study generally summed up the effects of prolonged sugar beverage consumption.

“It’s just not good for us.”

McGrat says if a sugar tax is imposed in Alberta, the benefits would vary.

“I think in general we would see some modest decrease in sugar consumption. Hopefully the revenues that will be generated from this tax are then allocated to healthy eating initiatives or to chronic disease prevention initiatives.”

However, not everyone thinks that this proposed tax would change habits.

Mitchell Oucharek is a Mount Royal University student who enjoys spending his free time playing video games in his dorm when he isn’t doing homework. He also tends to drink around a case of pop per week.

Many customers may no longer reach for a pop with a twenty-five cent increase on 500mL bottles.

Photo by Tara Rathgeber“I do tend to drink a lot of pop. It’s something that I enjoy a lot,” says Oucharek. “I do know that it’s not necessarily the best for me.”

Oucharek believes that a sugar tax would be irritating, but wouldn’t have much of an effect on his consumption of pop.

“The money that would be spent on the extra tax when I’m buying a case of pop, it’s going to be a little bit of a burden. It’s not going to be quite as easy to get those funds together, especially as a student, but I don’t think it’s going to decrease my enjoyment of anything in particular.”

Instead, Oucharek says he would rather see an education plan for consumers to learn more about what they are drinking.

“I don’t think putting a tax on something to try to promote [an idea] is necessarily the right first step. They need to make sure people are educated about the risks and then let people make their own decisions,” says Oucharek.

ksolway@cjournal.ca
t
rathgeber@cjournal.ca 

To contact the editors responsible for this story; Jordan Kroschinsky at jkroschinsky@cjournal.ca; Evan Manconi at emanconi@cjournal.ca