Will a sugar tax work in Singapore?

Will a sugar tax work in Singapore?

Some Singaporeans say that while people may buy less sugary drinks, there is a need to raise public awareness about the ill-effects of excessive sugar.

SINGAPORE: From 2018, Britain will introduce a tax on sugary drinks to tackle a growing obesity crisis. The expected S$1 billion raised will be used to combat childhood obesity.

Some Singaporeans Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that while people may buy less sugary drinks because of the tax, there is a need to raise public awareness about the ill-effects of excessive sugar.

Britain's sugar tax would be imposed on companies, according to the sugar content in their drinks. It is estimated to lead to an almost 80 per cent increase in price for sugary drinks. Other countries that have already introduced a sugar tax include France, Mexico and Norway.

Consumers Channel NewsAsia spoke to have asked if Singapore would follow suit.

"As with everything, people get used to it, they factor it in, they budget it in,” said Mr Bill Wong, a 54-year-old retiree. “I think it needs a bit more public awareness rather than just taxing everything, even though it is a good idea. But we may need to reinforce it with more campaigns to tell everybody that sugar is just as bad as sitting in your office all day."

"Obesity is not just about the drinks. It focuses on your diet as well and also your exercise regime," said Ms Siti Nurhanizah, a 28-year-old business development senior executive.

"If prices go up, people might tend to buy less of soda, so there is a chance that obesity might go down," said Mr Marshall Poh, a 28-year-old financial consultant.


Figures in 2014 showed that about 1.7 million Singaporeans have a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 23 and are at risk of obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

A healthcare expert said that increasing the cost of sugary drinks alone will not help change people's behaviour.

"If you impose the tax here, what about people going over to Malaysia to consume sugar?" Professor Phua Kai Hong, who teaches health and social policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy asked. “Tax is only one of the instruments and it is a very draconian one. Even if you impose this tax levy, you have to do it together with the rising of awareness and public education. In some cases, just having a debate around this without even having to impose the tax will do the trick, as in the case of Philadelphia."

He added that if Singapore were to implement such a policy, there may also be adverse effects on industries which depend heavily on sugar.

Source: CNA/ek