REPORT ON FINDINGS FROM THE PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON POSSIBLE MEASURES FOR PRE-PACKAGED SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES
1. As part of the War on Diabetes, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board (HPB) have been looking into reducing Singaporeans’ sugar intake. HPB’s latest survey in 2018 showed that on average, Singaporeans consumed twelve teaspoons (or 60g) of sugar daily. More than half of this came from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), of which 64 per cent were pre-packaged SSBs1. This is a concern as drinking an additional 250 ml serving of SSB every day increases the risk of diabetes by up to 26%2. In addition, the average sugar level of medium- to higher-sugar SSBs has not declined over the past 10 years, and remains high at 5 teaspoons (per 250 ml serving).
2. To this end, MOH and HPB held a public consultation from 4 December 2018 to 25 January 2019 to seek views from the public and key stakeholders on four possible measures to reduce Singaporeans’ sugar intake from pre-packaged SSBs (See Table 1).
Table 1: Possible measures and formats under the public consultation.
3. The Government consulted a wide range of stakeholders including members of the public, health professionals, and academia. Major segments of the SSB and advertising industries were also consulted, including manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers, media owners across broadcast, print, outdoor and digital platforms, as well as the relevant trade associations and chambers of commerce.
4. In total, over 4,000 responses were received through the following channels:
a) Online consultation via the Government’s feedback unit REACH: We received a total of 2,810 responses online.
b) Listening Points on the ground: We held three Listening Points3 in the community to reach out to various segments of the population who might not have participated in the online consultation. A total of 919 members of the public provided their feedback via the Listening Points.
c) Face-to-face dialogue sessions: We held a total of fifteen face-to-face dialogue sessions4. 173 members of public, and industry representatives from 56 organisations participated in the sessions (see Appendix 1).
d) Email responses: We received a total of 124 email responses, comprising 101 from members of the public and 23 from industry representatives, consumer groups and expert organisations (see Appendix 1).
SUMMARY OF RESPONSES
5. 89 percent of respondents5 were in favour of the Government doing more to reduce Singaporeans’ sugar intake from SSBs, citing the negative impact of excessive sugar intake on health. The remaining respondents felt that current efforts were sufficient.
6. 84 percent supported mandatory front-of-pack labels as they felt that it could help consumers make informed choices about what to consume. This was followed by 71 percent who supported advertising regulations as these could reduce the influence of advertisements on purchase and consumption decisions, especially among young consumers. 65 percent supported an excise duty to encourage manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in their drinks, while 48 percent supported a ban on the sale of higher-sugar SSBs as it could remove access to such SSBs. Those who were not in favour of the duty and the ban expressed concerns about the potential increased costs and deprivation of consumer choice respectively.
7. The industry preferred the Government to continue with the current voluntary approach instead of introducing regulatory measures. In particular, they expressed particularly strong views against the duty and the ban, as they felt that these measures would be ineffective in reducing sugar intake and adversely affect businesses. Some industry representatives indicated that should the Government decide to introduce regulatory measures, they would be more supportive of the front-of-pack label compared to the other measures, as providing consumers with information was a responsible industry practice. Most also opined that the label should provide information in a factual and objective manner. On the proposed advertising regulations, industry representatives highlighted that any regulations should be applied consistently across all mass media channels, citing the shift in media consumption pattern from traditional media to new media platforms.
8. The four expert organisations that responded to the public consultation were all supportive of the proposed measures. In terms of the format of the measures, they were aligned in their preference for interpretive labels, comprehensive advertising regulations, and a tiered duty. They also provided suggestions on the designs of the respective measures, including mandating the front-of-pack label for all SSBs, and not only less healthy SSBs; and tying the advertising regulations with the label.
9. Beyond the four measures in the public consultation, some respondents also suggested that the Government could further strengthen educational efforts on the importance of curbing sugar intake from a young age, as well as look into regulating other sources of Singaporeans’ sugar intake, such as freshly prepared drinks and sugary foods. With the increasing popularity of freshly prepared beverages such as bubble teas, there were concerns that sugar intake from these drinks would increase, and consumers might simply substitute one source of sugar for the other.
Read the full report here.