The Straits Times says

No sugar-coating the sweet threat

The possibility that Singapore may become the first country in the world to ban the sale of packaged drinks with high sugar content, should signal to producers and consumers alike the seriousness with which the country treats the link between sugar intake and diabetes. Singapore has the highest prevalence of diabetes among developed nations. On average, its people consume 12 teaspoons of sugar a day. The Ministry of Health is considering therefore several measures to reduce Singaporeans' sugar intake, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages. The four proposals on which the ministry is seeking views are a total ban on pre-packed high-sugar drinks; single or tiered taxes on high-sugar drinks; mandatory front-of-pack labelling on sugar/nutrition content; and a ban on advertisements of high-sugar drinks on all platforms.

An advertising ban would constitute possibly the lightest touch, but it also would be the least effective of measures. After all, banning cigarette advertising has not prevented smoking. So long as products are available legally on the market and people have the means to consume them, outlawing advertising will not be sufficient to disrupt the supply-demand chain fundamentally. At the other extreme, a complete ban might be considered excessive by those who believe that consumers should possess freedom of choice unless the personal and social consequences of that choice are so high that they negate the rationale for freedom. That is the logic of banning drug use, but some might ask why high-sugar drinks should be banned when cigarettes and alcohol, also health hazards, are not. Mandatory labelling is a midway effort, but its effectiveness would depend on the readiness of consumers to alter their habits on the basis of scientific information. Health warnings on cigarette packets have deterred some from smoking, but many still do puff away nonetheless.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2018, with the headline 'No sugar-coating the sweet threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe