Singapore—The country added another first on its records earlier this month, upon banning advertisements that feature and promote beverages that are high in sugar, as well as requiring sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) to carry color-coded nutrition labels, the first country to ever do so in history.
This move, announced by Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, Edwin Tong, at the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress on October 10, was made in order to fight the incidence of obesity and diabetes in Singapore, which has been steadily and alarmingly on the rise.
In South East Asia, there are around 96 million individuals suffering from diabetes. And Singapore itself has seen an increase in the incidence of obesity of almost 25 percent between the years of 2010 and 2014.
With this growth rate in health issues, a corresponding rise in the cost of health care is also expected, which could lead to a health crisis, especially when Singapore’s ageing population is added to the equation.
But how effective will these strategies be in the reduction of the consumption of sugary drinks? At present, Singaporeans consume an average of 12 teaspoons of sugar every day, which is around 60 g. Over half of Singaporeans’ sugar consumption is from high-sugar drinks.
Natasha Vass, writing for Asia Media International, believes that the total ban on advertising sugary drinks may be more effective than the labels, which some conveniently ignore.
She cites the precedent of advertisements for cigarettes, which are also banned in Singapore, where there is a 28 percent male smoking prevalence. In Indonesia, where there is no such ban, the male smoking prevalence is at 76.2 percent.
When it comes to warning labels, despite graphic warnings regarding health risks on cigarette packs in Indonesia, the prevalence of smokers has remained consistently high. Alarmingly, among children ages 13 to 15, Indonesia has a smoking prevalence rate of nearly twenty percent, meaning almost one in every five teenagers in that age bracket is a smoker, despite the warnings on labels.
Ms Vass adds, “This is likely a result of Indonesia’s mesmerizing cigarette commercials featuring joyful consumers,” further lending credence to the possibility of the effectiveness of a total ad ban.
However, Hannah Chang, an associate professor of marketing at the Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, told marketing news outfit The Drum that with people who are looking to make healthier beverage choices, the labels on drinks may be effective.
“There is evidence that clear labelling on drinks and beverages help consumers choose more wisely; this is effective particularly among those consumers who do care about having a healthier diet,” she said.
But the head of strategy at M&C Saatchi Singapore, Ramesh Kumar, told The Drum that if someone is determined to purchase and consume a sugary drink, no label would prevent from doing so.
At any rate, marketers agree that the ban will force manufacturers to re-formulate their goods in a healthier direction, which have been the trend with soft drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo over the last few years anyway, with boosts to beverage items with less or no sugar.
Ms Chang added, “It makes the companies less dependent on the sales of drinks with very high sugar content, and reduce the potential impact of a total ban on ads of drinks with high sugar content on the company’s overall sales in the longer term.”
According to the managing partner of Happy Marketer, Prantik Mazumdar, this is necessary for manufacturers’ long-term survival.
“Whilst FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) brands may experiment with various short term tactical experiments to circumvent these strong regulations, it is in their interest to either evolve the current products into much healthier versions or invest in other healthier food & beverage categories to sustain growth,” he said./ TISG