Singapore is the first country to ban advertisements for high-sugar drinks – here’s what will happen

Drinks with medium-to-high sugar content will have to carry compulsory “unhealthy” labels.

Singapore will have to think twice before reaching for their favourite sugary drink on the aisle.

The war on diabetes continues as the Republic announced on Thursday (Oct 10) that it will become the first country in the world to place a total ban on advertisements of packaged drinks with very high sugar content.

This ban will extend across all mass media platforms and online channels like TV, internet, newspaper, radio and outdoor ads.

Nutrition labels will also be placed on such drinks, with “unhealthy” labels for drinks with medium-to-high sugar content, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

The measures will cover drinks that come in bottles, packets, and cans. This includes instant drinks, soft drinks, juices, cultured milk and yoghurt drinks.

According to The Straits Times, the exact details of when these measures are coming and what they entail will be announced in 2020.

Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said in a statement that the aim of these measures is to encourage informed choices, reduce advertising influence, and to get manufacturers to reduce sugar content in sugary drinks.

MOH said that the graded and colour-coded nutrient summary label will show if a drink is healthy, neutral or unhealthy. It will also show the sugar level and percentage ratio of sugar in a drink.

The option of including this label if a drink receives a positive grade is left to the manufacturer to decide. However, it will be mandatory for unhealthy drinks.

How a drink is graded depends largely on its sugar content, but not solely. Other factors include the amount of saturated fat found in products such as three-in-one coffee mixes, for example.

Diabetes is becoming increasingly problematic in Singapore. A survey last year found that Singaporeans consumed an average of 12 teaspoons (or 60g) of sugar daily, of which more than half comes from sweet drinks.

Tong said that: “This is a concern, because as on average, an additional 250ml serving of SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) per day would increase the risk of diabetes by up to 26 per cent”.

Other measures still on the table

Last December, MOH and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) held a eight-week public consultation on how to reduce sugar intake, which proposed four possible measures.

The four measures were: compulsory nutrition labels, advertising regulations, a sugar tax, or a ban of high-sugar drinks. 

According to The Straits Times , 84 per cent of the 4,000 respondents had supported the implementation of compulsory nutrition labels, and 71 per cent supported the advertising regulations.

A majority of 65 per cent also supported a sugar tax to encourage manufacturers to reduce sugar content, and 48 per cent wanted a ban on the sale of high sugar drinks.

In another survey conducted by YouGov in July, nearly three in five Singaporeans supported a total ban on high-sugar drinks, and 42 per cent were in favour of a sugar tax.

MOH said that a sugar tax and high-sugar drink ban are still on the table but require more careful study as these measures need to be sustainable for the long-term.

“We intend to continue as strongly, if not more strongly, on our road to ensure that there is awareness. We will raise education levels, and continue to provide the public with information so that they can be empowered to make their own choices on which products are healthier,” the ministry said.

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