By Devina SamarooJust as increasing taxation on tobacco products is aimed at reducing smoking among a population in order toFormer Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammypromote healthier lifestyles, so too will be the result by increasing taxes on soda.Since soda and other sugary beverages are a major contributor to poor diets across the world, former Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy is urging all governments to implement a soda tax to encourage healthier diets among its citizenry.Just as the tobacco industry did with cigarettes, soda companies go to great lengths to target vulnerable populations. Research show that a great amount of soda advertising is aimed at children and teenagers as well as low-income communities.Soda is one of the most consumed beverages in the United States, second only to water.Soda’s connection to the obesity epidemic is so intertwined, Harvard researchers have calculated each additional soda consumed increases the risk of obesity 1.6 times.Incessant soda consumption eventually leads to increased risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, reproductive issues, heart diseases, kidney issues, among other negative health dangers.Dr Ramsammy in a statement pointed out that poor diets today is a bigger problem than hunger.He said while less than 800 million people go hungry every day, more than 2 billion people consume diets that are making them sick.“More than 2 billion people around the world are overweight and obese. For the first time in human history there are more overweight people than underweight people in the world,” he remarked, noting that Guyana is no exception from the growing number of people slipping into that category.Dr Ramsammy noted that for years he has been talking about the need to implement heavy taxation on soda but despite his sound rationale, very few paid attention to the call.Charging heavy taxes on soda will pressure distributors to pass the cost along to businesses and consumers. Should they increase the price of their products – and this is the straightforward effect – the additional cost could reduce soda consumption by encouraging people to select healthier, cheaper options.Additionally, a taxed industry will act as an “anti-soda” public health campaign since people tend to understand that product-specific taxes are only levied when a substance can cause harm.Observers noted that such a shift occurred with tobacco when countries around the world implemented the tobacco tax.The spotlight of soda taxes is heightened today because it has become the newest policy disagreement between the two Democratic Party candidates for the US Presidency. Hilary Clinton has endorsed a soda tax while Bernie Sanders contends it is anti-poor.Dr Ramsammy said that Sanders’ anti-poor argument in rejecting the implementation of a soda tax is shocking because poor diet is contributing to an explosion of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, among all people, but particularly poor people.The former Health Minister said Sanders’ argument that the soda tax will make soda less affordable for poor people is exactly the argument Big Food uses to resist any effort to implement a soda tax, whether it is in America or in any other part of the world. Big Food sacrifices people’s health at the altar of Big Profit. In rejecting the soda tax, Sanders is protecting Big Food’s Big Profit agenda.“The latest controversy over the soda tax is because Ms Clinton supports the Mayor of Philadelphia who has piloted a bill to increase soda tax in his city and use the revenues to support pre-school and kindergarten programmes. This seems like a programme designed to benefit poor people, not an assault on poor people,” he counter-argued.He noted that there are many good examples of soda taxation around the world that demonstrate the effectiveness of its implementation and the benefits accrued to poor communities.“Take the California city, Berkeley which passed a soda tax in November 2014. It was a victory for health, for communities of colour and their kids, and for people-powered democracy against one of the biggest global industries – Big Soda expended $US2.5 million to fight the tax. Berkeley took on the soda tax campaign because of a serious health crisis: 40 per cent of the children were on track to become diabetic in their lifetime unless something changed. The link between soda and diabetes is undeniable. Berkeley’s soda tax is a penny-per-ounce tax paid by distributors of sugary drinks, like soda, energy drinks, and sugary coffee syrups. As of March, 2016, Berkeley’s soda tax has generated $1.5 million for community nutrition & health efforts, including school garden programmes,” he pointed out.Dr Ramsammy further explained that all nations can learn from the Mexico soda tax case whereby its implementation resulted in the purchase of soda decreasing by an incredible 12 per cent within a year. Dr Ramsammy asserted that by introducing soda taxes, governments will ultimately be helping poor communities who can least afford the healthcare that will be demanded by the diseases such as diabetes and obesity. He posited that any objection against soda tax is an assault against poor people.