Sugary drink tax could use some work

The weekly editorial for the 100 Mile Free Press

As part of the 2020 budget, the B.C. government announced that they would be adding PST to carbonated sugary drinks. The seven per cent tax will also be extended to all beverages dispensed through soda fountains, soda guns or similar equipment, as well as all beverages in vending machines, with the exception of those dedicated to serving drinks other than sweet drinks such as coffee or water. However, according to the budget, the latter is for administrative ease.

There are two ways to take that; you can see it as a cash grab or you can see it as an attempt to reduce consumption of (primarily) carbonated beverages. How you take it doesn’t really matter as it likely will do both regardless.

The more interesting question, undoubtedly, is what are the loopholes and/or potential consequences? Assuming the tax has the intended effect (something that’s not a guarantee), people will buy far fewer carbonated drinks. In terms of exemptions first and most clearly, non-carbonated sugary drinks will be exempt in a number of situations (i.e. a grocery store). In 100 Mile House, when Safeway was still here, it was notoriously popular for lunch with students. Switching from something like cola to ice tea doesn’t seem like much of a health win. However, and perhaps more harmfully, energy drinks also aren’t always carbonated (i.e. Monster Rehab, Rockstar Recovery Orange etc.). Furthermore, unlike pop, energy drinks have been increasing in popularity as opposed to pop which has already decreased in popularity.

I don’t know about other parents, but while I’m not keen on my kids drinking pop, I’d certainly prefer it over them drinking energy drinks. While my kids are still too young to make these kinds of choices for themselves, the government, in an admittedly roundabout way, incentivizing some energy drinks over pop is a real head-scratcher.

Furthermore, for those enjoying something to drink with their meal in a restaurant, perhaps one of the least sugary alternatives to cola and similar drinks, other than water, is soda water. However, with the tax applying to everything on soda guns and fountains that option is also disincentivized.

Finally, for a government that claims to be ecoconscious, this policy is also a bit of a head-scratcher. By applying the policy to everything on guns and fountains, it applies to non-carbonated beverages on the fountain such as ice-tea and lemonade. This, in turn, may incentivize buyers to buy bottled ice-tea, lemonade and other bottled products instead, increasing the number of empty bottles that need to be recycled or end up in a landfill.

Perhaps the intent behind the policy was good but you have to wonder if the execution couldn’t have been a bit more well-rounded.

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