Singapore to ban sugary drink adverts

Singapore, which has some of the world’s highest diabetes rates, is to become the first country to ban advertising for sugary drinks, according to health minister Edwin Tong.

He told the 2019 Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress that the ban – which is expected next year – would apply to the print, broadcast and online media.

Singapore‘s action looks set to go further than measures in Mexico and the UK, which restrict when adverts for high-calorie products can be broadcast to limit their exposure to children.

Tong referred to the “war on diabetes” campaign launched in 2016 by the Ministry of Health to reduce the illness. Singaporeans were estimated to consume an average of 12 teaspoons of sugar a day.

High consumption of sweet drinks is associated with obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. The World Health Organisation warned that regular consumption of one to two cans of sugary drinks a day makes people 26 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that the global prevalence of obesity has almost tripled since 1975.

There are also the dangers of tooth decay and the environmental damage of covering the planet with single-use plastic and cans.

The Singaporean ministry said it would also introduce graded and colour-coded nutrition labels on sugary drinks to enable customers to make “an informed choice and make a conscious choice to choose the healthier product”.

Tong said the two measures were only the first steps in the battle against diabetes with an excise duty or even an outright ban on high-sugar drinks still “on the agenda”.

“The SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] will be assigned a summary grade based on their nutritional quality,” Tong told the opening ceremony of the health event.

“The label will be mandatory only for the less healthy SSBs, and we are considering highlighting their sugar content on the label as well to warn consumers of these less healthy and high-sugar-content drinks.

“More than half of our sugar consumption still comes from SSBs which are easily available, enticing and not expensive. It is something that we need to tackle more closely,” Tong told the event.

Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest beverage maker, said it welcomed the ban and would work to cut the sugar in its drinks sold in Singapore.

“We will continue to rethink many of our recipes in Singapore to reduce sugar, because while sugar in moderation is fine, we agree that too much of it is not good for anyone,” said Ahmed Yehia of Coca-Cola Singapore and Malaysia.

Single-use plastic drinks bottles must be banned. Picture credit: Asean Economist