On 4 December 2018, Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) launched a public consultation on certain measures which may be adopted to reduce the country's sugar intake from pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).1 The consultation will end on 25 January 2019.
Measures under consideration
The proposed SSB measures are part of Singapore's on-going "War on Diabetes". Under consideration are measures on front-of-pack nutrition labelling, advertising restrictions, excise duties and a total ban on the sale of higher-sugar SSBs.
- Mandatory front-of-pack nutrition label – This measure seeks to help consumers differentiate between healthier and less healthy SSBs by providing visual marks on the front of the pack, instead of the numerical information on the back of the pack currently in use, which consumers find difficult to interpret. Under consideration are nutrient-specific labels, nutrient-summary labels and warning labels.
- Advertising restrictions or ban – Currently, voluntary advertising guidelines in Singapore cover limited time-belts2 and media channels that target children. Such restrictions may be made mandatory and expanded to include more TV time-belts and media channels that children are exposed to. A ban on advertising across all time-belts and mass media channels is also under consideration.
- Excise duty – This measure seeks to encourage manufacturers and importers to reduce the sugar content in their drinks. A flat duty rate may be imposed on all SSBs with sugar levels beyond a certain threshold, or lower duty rate(s) may be imposed on SSBs with lower sugar level(s).
- Ban on sale of higher-sugar SSBs3 – Currently, only lower-sugar SSBs can be sold at schools and government premises, while major SSB manufacturers have pledged to limit the sugar content in drinks sold in Singapore to no more than six teaspoons per 250 ml. A nationwide ban of higher-sugar SSBs is under consideration to reduce overall sugar intake from SSBs.
Parallels to tobacco controls
If the sugar measures under consideration look familiar, that is because these are similar to the regulatory and fiscal tools used to control and reduce the consumption of tobacco products. Tobacco controls also started out with taxation and prices, and progressed to advertising and sale restrictions/bans, and mandatory visual marks. As noted in previous trade alert (13 November 2018, Is Plain or Standardised Packaging for Tobacco Products a Harbinger of the Future Facing Fatty Foods, Alcohol Products and Sugared Drinks?) the successes in fending off legal challenges to tobacco controls may have given health authorities more confidence in pursuing public health goals. Plain packaging regulations on sugared foodstuffs may very well be on the agenda in the future.
1 Sugar-sweetened beverages refer to drinks containing added sugar as well as juices with naturally occurring sugar.
2 Time-belts are blocks of time during which certain types of radio programming or television programming appropriate for that time is aired. The programming would most often be geared toward a particular demographic, and what the target audience typically engages in at that time.
3 Singapore identifies higher-sugar SSBs as containing at least 5.5 teaspoons sugar per 250 ml serving, medium-sugar SSBs contain 4 teaspoons, and lower-sugar SSBs contain 3 teaspoons sugar.