Tread carefully when considering sugar tax

It has been mentioned that a sugar tax in Singapore will be a bitter pill to swallow (Sugar tax in Singapore - too bitter a pill to swallow?; Oct 11). But all efficacious medicines are difficult to swallow.

The devil, as always, is in the details.

Will it be a blanket tax on all types of sweeteners? Will it be small enough to hurt but not alter habits, or will it be punitively high?

Seeing that calories do not come from sugar alone, will a sugar tax be followed by a carbohydrate or trans-fat tax?

As with all consumption taxes, any sugar tax will affect the lower-income group disproportionately more.

However, one expects that the Government will institute measures to ameliorate any adverse effects.

Interestingly, while some countries and cities have found decreased consumption of sugar after levying a tax, others have abandoned the idea after discovering other means to alter consumption behaviour.

These include raising awareness of the sugar problem through more public discourse, providing more information and options for healthy eating and drinking, restricting the easy availability of sugared drinks, and encouraging better labelling.

A sugar tax may just cause revulsion at the prospect of another "income-generating avenue" by the Government.

Unconvinced consumers may increase bulk purchases or even cross-border purchases of items. Profiteering by unscrupulous vendors will inevitably follow.

The experience of others has shown that a sugar tax may not be a silver bullet. We have to tread carefully.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Tread carefully when considering sugar tax'. Print Edition | Subscribe