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Singapore Set to Implement World’s First Advertising Ban for High Sugar Drinks

The Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) announced recently that it will introduce a mandatory Front-of-Pack (“FOP”) label for packaged sugar-sweetened beverages (“SSBs”) with colour code and grade to inform consumers of the sugar content, i.e., whether it is healthy, neutral or unhealthy, so that consumers may make an informed decision when purchasing SSBs. An advertising prohibition on product advertisements for SSBs will also be implemented from next year.

According to 2017 figures from a report on The Burden of Disease in Singapore 1990 to 2017 by the MOH and Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a Singaporean’s life expectancy had risen to 84.8 years old in 2017 from 76.1 years old in 1990. The report, however, found that one of the leading risk factors affecting health in Singapore in 2017 included high blood sugar.

This decision to introduce mandatory FOP nutrition labels for less healthy drinks and advertising prohibitions was made after an extensive review of local and international evidence of existing measures and taking into account the feedback received from a public consultation held by the Health Promotion Board and MOH in late 2018 to early 2019.

The eight-week public consultation conducted in 2018 sought the public’s views on 4 main measures the MOH is currently studying and its proposals for how it may be achieved:

  • Greater Informed Choices for Consumers

By the introduction of a mandatory FOP nutrition label

  • Reducing Advertising Influence

By restricting or banning advertisements of less healthy packaged SSBs to reduce its influence on consumption decisions

  • Acceleration of the drink manufacturing industry’s reformulation efforts in reducing sugar content in SSB

This would be achieved through an excise duty imposed on the industry

  • Discouraging consumption of SSBs

This would be achieved through a ban on sale of higher-sugar SSBs.

The introduction of a mandatory FOP nutrition label on packaged SSBs seeks to complement Singapore’s existing voluntary FOP Healthier Choice Symbol that helps consumers mark out healthier products. Closing this gap would be the implementation of a label marking out less healthy SSBs. The label will be made mandatory only for drinks classified as containing high sugar content. Conversely, healthier SSBs can receive a positive grade and manufacturers may choose if they want their products to bear the label.

As for the advertising prohibition, Singapore has current voluntary guidelines in place limiting advertising of less healthy food and drinks to children. These guidelines for children cover only limited TV time-belts and media channels. The new advertising prohibition is expected to reduce the influence of advertising on consumers.

Drinks affected by the new regulations will include those in bottles, cans and packs. It will also cover two- or three-in-one instant drinks, soft drinks, juices and cultured milk and yoghurt drinks.

The last 2 measures from the public consultation were met with widely varying opinions and have yet to be implemented, according to Singapore Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong. More time would be needed to carefully study these options as they need to be sustainable for the long term, he noted. Meanwhile, manufacturers of less healthy SSBs are being encouraged by the MOH to start thinking about reformulating SSBs to lower their sugar content.

By: Denise Mirandah

A version of this article first appeared on the GALA Blog. For more information, please visit http://blog.galalaw.com/.