BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, June 1, 2017 (Press Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister) – The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis is considering the implementation of a number of measures, such as elevating taxes on sugary products, in an attempt to combat the challenges posed by chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) in the Federation. For instance, two chronic non-communicable conditions and diseases (hypertension and diabetes) are the leading causes of morbidity in the Federation.
Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris stressed that this is being considered “not so much as a revenue measure, but for the deterrent effect that this could have.”
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are non-infectious or non-transmissible diseases as opposed to communicable, infectious or transmissible diseases, such as Influenza (also known as the flu) and HIV/AIDS.
NCDs are categorized into four main types, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). They are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
Speaking at his press conference on Wednesday, May 31st, 2017, Prime Minister Harris revealed that the Caribbean region has the highest burden of chronic non-communicable diseases in the Americas. Dr. Harris also noted that CNCDs are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality and are also responsible for more than 3 out of every 4 deaths in the Caribbean.
In contrast with the other areas of the Americas, persons living in the CARICOM territories have the highest likelihood of dying prematurely from CNCDs between the ages of 30 to 70 years old.
The Honourable Prime Minister further noted that in July 2016, at the 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government, the region’s leaders moved to support three initiatives aimed at tackling high incidences of CNCDs.
“CARICOM Heads asked that we ban smoking in public places,” the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis said. In 2013, Jamaica joined Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname as the only CARICOM countries to introduce legislation that bans smoking in public areas.
Prime Minister Harris added that the CARICOM Heads also asked that “we ban the advertisement of potentially harmful foods, which specifically target children, and thirdly, that we elevate taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and trans-fats.”
Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, who serves as CARICOM’s lead spokesman on Health, HIV and AIDS matters, stressed that a number of Caribbean countries have since moved to impose excise taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and trans-fats.
“Dominica, in 2015 for example, implemented an excise tax of $0.20 per litre on soft drinks and 10% on energy drinks, and I am advised that there is an expanding body of literature supporting the effectiveness of fiscal policies such as these in reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods, drinks and substances,” Prime Minister Harris stated, adding that his Cabinet will be looking at this measure “in a very serious way.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its 2017 Article IV Mission report released on May 12th, said that taxes “including on cigarette, alcohol, and sugary products (consistent with initiatives that CARICOM is exploring) can raise revenue, while contributing to government efforts to reduce non-communicable diseases.”
At yesterday’s press conference, Prime Minister Harris also encouraged citizens and residents of St. Kitts and Nevis to pay greater attention to their health and wellness.
Dr. Harris made a passionate appeal to young people, in particular, to change their eating habits, as it relates to sugary products and salty foods, and to incorporate some form of physical exercise into their daily routine.