High-sugar drinks: Ban or mandatory nutrition labels? Readers have their say in ST online poll

The most number of readers who took part in the ST poll chose a total ban on pre-packed high-sugar drinks as the best option among four measures mooted by the Ministry of Health.
The most number of readers who took part in the ST poll chose a total ban on pre-packed high-sugar drinks as the best option among four measures mooted by the Ministry of Health.PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - As the authorities mull over measures to help people cut their sugar intake, what do Singaporeans think is the best way to curb a sweet tooth?

Among the four measures mooted by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the option chosen by the most number of readers who took part in a online poll by The Straits Times was a total ban on pre-packed high-sugar drinks.

Nearly 40 per cent (719 people) of about 1,900 polled expressed their support for this in the poll, which began on Tuesday evening (Dec 4) after the MOH and the Health Promotion Board began a public consultation exercise on ways to curtail the consumption of sugary drinks. These include 3-in-1 mixes, cordials, yogurt drinks, fruit juices and soft drinks.

Such drinks account for more than half the 12 teaspoons of sugar that people here take each day on average. Many packaged sweetened beverages are loaded with sugar, with one in four containing 5.5 teaspoons of sugar or more.

Imposing mandatory nutrition labels on the front of packed drinks came a close second in the poll among the measures that were outlined. The two other measures are a single or tiered tax on high-sugar drinks and a ban on advertisements on all platforms for these drinks.

As of 4pm on Wednesday, about a third of readers, or 676 people, believed that mandatory front-of-pack labelling on high-sugar drinks is the way to go.

While Singapore currently has the Healthier Choice symbol to help consumers identify lower-sugar products, this is voluntary and does not identify the range of less healthy sugared beverages.

The least popular option, with 233 votes, is banning advertisements on all platforms, such as on buses or social media.

Existing guidelines only limit advertising during specific time periods on television and media channels.

 
 
 
 

The option of introducing a tax on sweet pre-packed drinks, which would primarily affect manufacturers and importers of these beverages, was chosen by 310 people.

A tax could encourage the industry to lower the sugar content of their products, similar to the excise duty imposed in Britain, Mexico and some US cities, as well as in regional countries like Brunei and Thailand.

However, Facebook user Travis Lin said that consumer education is key.

"Educate people so that they can make informed decisions. I don't drink any sugary drinks or even fruit juice. That's my choice," he said.

"Nobody should be forced to make that same choice. People should be informed and have the liberty to choose what they want to drink."

Mr S. P. Low, a manager in an engineering company, called a total ban on high-sugar drinks "too extreme".

The 42-year-old said that people should be given a choice of a range of drinks of various sugar levels.

"There's no need for a ban, but maybe retailers can provide options with less or no sugar," he said. "Ultimately, you should let the consumer choose what they want."

Another Facebook user Christina Lau agreed, saying that the Government should consider making flavoured sparkling water more accessible, such as in European countries.

"This helps people who like fizzy drink to cut down on the sugar intake, by having sparkling water instead of a soft drink," she said.

MOH said that every 250ml of sugar-sweetened beverages daily raises a person's risk of getting diabetes by 18 per cent to 26 per cent.

Facebook user Illyanna Vee said that a tax, rather than a complete ban, could be a more palatable option.

She wrote: "Tax (it) as a sign of disapproval, but don't take away an individual's choices.

"Unlike smoking or alcohol, drinking sugary drinks hurts no one but the individual."