PETALING JAYA: A think tank has urged the government to extend the sugar tax to cover all drinks with high sugar content instead of limiting it to pre-packaged beverages.
Azrul Khalib, CEO of Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said Malaysians consumed high amounts of sugar not so much through bottled or canned drinks but through made-to-order drinks like teh tarik and bubble tea.
He cited the result of an experiment done by Temasek Polytechnic students on brown sugar boba, a type of bubble tea. It was found that a cup of the drink contained nearly three times the amount of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola.
The tax came into effect on Monday. The 40-sen-per-litre excise duty is imposed on sweetened beverages containing more than five grammes of sugar or any sugar-based sweetener per 100ml.
Azrul said he doubted that the tax would appreciably reduce consumption.
“The truth is we cannot depend on Malaysian consumers to change and adopt healthy choices and habits,” he said.
“Older individuals and those who have had high-sugar diets for years are unlikely to change their habits. They are relatively insensitive to price increases.”
According to the government, a purpose of the tax is to fight obesity and other diseases associated with high sugar consumption. Malaysia is said to have the highest level of obesity in Southeast Asia.
The revenue collected will fund health programmes in schools to address non-communicable diseases (NCD) like diabetes and childhood obesity.
Azrul said the the government should increase efforts to promote health literacy.
“Fighting NCDs like diabetes and obesity requires vision, committed investments and the political will to ensure a healthier people,” he added.
Ho Su Mong, who heads the Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors’ General Association, said he did not expect sales to be affected by the tax.
“People who have grown used to drinking these drinks will not be deterred by the price and will still buy them,” he said, but added that the more health-conscious might turn to sugarless drinks like Chinese tea.