Can’t tax sugary drinks to ‘repair diabetes,’ says pair of Manitoba profs

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Two Manitoba scholars oppose the possible sin tax on sugary beverages because it ignores the needs and rights of First Nation communities.

Myra J. Tait and Natalie Diane Riediger consider the introduction of such a tax for First Nation consumers to be unethical, violate tax law, and undermine indigenous people’s right to self-determination.

“If it were that easy to tax a drink and we could fix diabetes, any jurisdiction would do it. The problem is that there is poverty and sovereignty issues, especially for indigenous peoples, ”Tait, assistant professor of governance, law and management at Athabasca University, said on Wednesday.

The World Health Organization supports calls for the soda tax, confident that the introduction of the tax can help reduce consumption and prevent diabetes.

The idea has also caught the attention of some Liberal MPs in Ontario who once stated in their platform priorities that the new tax could be used to create a national healthy lunch program for Canadian schools.

Life expectancy among First Nations and non-Indigenous Manitobans has increased from eight years since 2002 to 11 years, according to a report by the Manitoba Center for Health Policy.

Treating diabetes in Canada can cost up to $ 30 billion a year, and a soda tax seems unlikely to solve this problem.

Tait noted that taxation would appear to help everyone other than indigenous people. Therefore, First Nations must have the right to determine what is best for their communities, including whether to buy sugary drinks at a higher price.

Previous studies have shown that there is a connection between childhood experiences and the higher consumption of sugary drinks in childhood and adulthood.

Due to intergenerational trauma, many indigenous people live with mental illness and addictions.

Taxation also does not affect the underlying food security in many indigenous communities. The 2015 Canadian Community Heath Survey found that indigenous peoples are more likely to consume sugary drinks than any other group.

This result reflects the lack of healthy and affordable food in communities with a large indigenous population.

“We know that Canada’s indigenous peoples have a much higher prevalence of food security,” said Riediger, assistant professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Manitoba.

“Because of the pandemic, food security has increased in Canada. Evidence shows that communities faced with food insecurity are more likely to consume sugary drinks. It is unethical to raise the price of beverages that are disproportionately consumed by people who cannot afford to eat. ”

The demand for a tax on sugary beverages raises ethical questions about taxing addiction or trauma-related behaviors, especially because choices are limited in many indigenous communities.

The soda tax is designed to enable citizens to choose better foods. However, communities like Tataskweyak Cree Nation don’t even have clean drinking water to consume.

“Nobody denies that too much sugar is bad for us, but the approach of taxing First Nations people in particular to help with a health problem when the most basic need for clean water is not met is wrong,” said Tait.

Instead of taxing sugary drinks, both believe that a better solution is to end paternalism and make real choices by fighting inequality and racism.

– Nicole Wong is a reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative who works at the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Canadian government.

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