Singapore has announced plans to ban the advertising of numerous high-sugar drinks and juices as it introduces a series of measures to curb diabetes rates in the country, which are among the highest in the world. The drinks themselves may also be required to bear health warnings normally associated with more dangerous products. The measures are in line with Singapore’s reputation as a land of strict laws — the measures are much harsher than in other countries such as Mexico and the United Kingdom, where restrictions have been placed on the hours during which ads for high-calorie foods and drinks can be shown on TV. Singapore’s planned restrictions would go beyond TV and into print, and online channels.
There are also proposals to introduce taxes on sugary drink manufacturers and importers, and even a total ban on the sale of some beverages. The proposal offers some food for thought for Pakistan, which has an increasing diabetes problem and an abundance of cheap, unhealthy sugar-laden drinks and edibles available at every corner. While restricting advertising for sugary products may have some benefits, in theory, the experience both at home and abroad with tobacco and other restricted products suggests that manufacturers will find other ways to market these products. Lax enforcement would make policing such workarounds even more difficult. An outright ban on imports would be problematic, as several popular candies and confectionaries are not domestically manufactured and the vast majority are imported through proper legal channels. Allowing a black market to develop would be a double-whammy.
Increasing taxes, however, may be a more workable solution to discourage consumption. Higher prices will not make people quit candy, but they will invariably have to manage their dosage. This is especially important with children, who will not be concerned with the long-term damage they are doing to themselves with all that candy. And even mom and dad might think twice before eating that second rasgulla.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2019.