The Malaysian government is considering introducing a tax on sugary soft drinks as a means of improving health in the country.
Prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the move is aimed at reducing sugar consumption and levels of diabetes.
“The diabetes rate in Malaysia is very high because we take too much sugar,” he said.
The proposed sugar tax was welcomed by the Malaysian Dental Association. Its president said in a statement: “A tax on sugar will serve to highlight the severe health problems that the nation is suffering as a result of cheap and abundant added sugar.”
Meanwhile, The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy welcomed the discussion to reduce sugar consumption as a means of encouraging healthy living, but cautioned on the implementation of a soda tax.
Chief executive of the organisation Azrul Mohd Khalib said: “Studies and the experience from countries which have already implemented this measure such as Chile, Mexico and the United Kingdom have indicated that a soda tax would have both short-term and long-term effects.
“Short term, young consumers (between 13-30 years) across different socio-economic backgrounds would very likely reduce their sugar consumption by up to 80% compared to the average consumer, turning to beverages which are less sweet.
“Older individuals and those who already have high-sugar diets are unlikely to change habits as they already have strong preferences for sugar and are relatively insensitive to price increases. In the long term, the situation will normalise and consumers may very well end up buying the same amount of soda drinks but paying more.
“The effectiveness of a soda tax on actually reducing obesity is therefore mixed. The tax succeeds in achieving large reductions in sugar among one specific group, but does very little for the larger group.”
He added: “A tax by itself is not going to solve the obesity problem. Soda drinks are not the only contributor to obesity. The government must invest in health literacy and NCD prevention programmes which aim to educate and create awareness of healthy choices and influence behaviour.”
The announcement comes the same year as countries such as the UK, Ireland and the Philippines introduce taxes on sugary soft drinks. Indonesia is also considering the implementation of a levy.
In May, lawmakers in California banned any additional taxes on groceries until 2030 and effectively ruling out the expansion of sugar taxes introduced in some cities.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019