SINGAPORE, Dec 5 — Beverages with higher sugar content, such as energy and soft drinks, could be banished from supermarket shelves, food outlets and vending machines, if proposed measures by the government take effect.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) are taking these steps to reduce sugar intake from pre-packaged, sugar-sweetened drinks — part of the MOH’s War on Diabetes campaign launched in 2016 to fight the disease, which is the second leading cause of ill health here.
From yesterday to January 25 next year, there will be a public consultation to get feedback on four proposed measures to cut down sugar intake from these beverages.
The proposed measures
A nationwide ban on the sale of higher-sugar, pre-packaged beverages
A tax on manufacturers and importers of these beverages
Extended advertising regulations for these beverages beyond the current voluntary guidelines
Mandatory front-of-package labels detailing the beverage’s nutrition value, to help consumers identify healthier options and those that are less healthy
Of the 12 teaspoons of sugar that Singaporeans consume daily, about a third comes from pre-packaged, sugar-sweetened beverages, the MOH said.
These beverages include ready-to-drink products that are available in cans, packets, cartons and bottles, as well as drinks that require dilution from cordials, concentrates, or powders.
The pre-packaged, sugar-sweetened beverages are divided into three categories: Higher-sugar, medium-sugar and lower-sugar drinks.
Higher-sugar drinks contain an average of 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml, and include energy drinks, juice drinks and soft drinks.
Medium-sugar drinks have an average of four teaspoons of sugar per 250ml. These include three-in-one drinks, as well as reduced-sugar juice drinks.
Data provided this year showed that these two drink categories make up about 55 per cent of all pre-packaged, sugar-sweetened beverages sold here.
Lower-sugar drinks such as isotonic drinks and "diet" drinks, as well as Healthier Choice Symbol drinks, make up the remainder of such beverages sold here.
The MOH said yesterday that the four measures the authorities are proposing comes after a review of practices in other countries.
Sugar tax to shape behaviour
In order to curb sugar intake, one proposed measure is for a total ban on higher-sugar pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages.
Right now, only lower-sugar beverages are sold at schools and in government offices.
A nationwide ban will mean that higher-sugar drinks will no longer be sold at all supermarkets, vending machines and food outlets.
Last year, the seven largest beverage makers in Singapore — which make up 70 per cent of the sugar-sweetened beverage market here — pledged to cut down on the amount of sugar in their drinks to no more than six teaspoons per 250ml.
The ban is a possible measure to further discourage the consumption of such beverages, the MOH said.
The ministry also noted that there has been an “increased momentum” globally to combat diabetes through fiscal means, which includes taxes on manufacturers and importers.
The aim of the sugary-drink tax is “to encourage the industry to reformulate and reduce the sugar content in their products”, it said.
The taxes imposed could be either a flat tax rate, or a tiered rate, which means that a manufacturer could pay more if its drinks contain more sugar.
MOH stressed that the taxes are “not for revenue generation, but to shape the behaviour of manufacturers and consumers”.
Further regulating of the advertising of unhealthy food and drinks is another avenue that the authorities are exploring.
There are guidelines now to limit advertising but they are not mandatory. For example, television advertisements that run during time belts before 9pm and that target children aged 12 and below should meet the HPB’s nutrition criteria.
The MOH noted that there are children who watch free-to-air TV beyond that timing, and it also flagged the possibility of expanding restrictions to more media channels, including that of online media.
Another possible measure is to have a blanket ban on advertising during all time belts across all mass media channels.
As for the mandatory front-of-package labels to help consumers identify healthier and less-healthy beverage choices, it could complement the MOH's existing Healthier Choice Symbol programme, which is voluntary and marks out healthier options.
HPB’s chief executive officer Zee Yoong Kang said that the government has made “significant progress” on the War on Diabetes campaign through public education as well as other voluntary measures.
Stressing that the target is “zero sugar”, Zee added: “Now we are looking to consult the public on whether we can take a more regulatory-style approach, to try to reduce the sugar content in these drinks.”
The public consultation opens yesterday. Members of the public may submit their views and feedback on the website of the government's feedback unit Reach.
As part of its consultation efforts, the MOH and HPB will be engaging the beverage and advertising industries, as well as health professionals and other academics. — TODAY