Government’s Health Target Missing Many By Exempting Bubble Tea From Sugar Tax

The sugar tax only covers pre-packaged drinks.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 — A nutritionist told the Health Ministry that it was missing a significant chunk of people in its bid to reduce sugar consumption by excluding made-to-order drinks, like bubble tea, from the sugar tax.

The Star reported public health nutritionist Dr Tee E. Siong as acknowledging, however, that taxing all sugar-sweetened beverages may not be politically wise.

“Handmade drinks like teh tarik are not captured when the government implemented the sugar tax, and if there is a large number of people consuming beverages that are not under the sugar tax, then the government’s target has missed a big faction of people.

“The next best thing is to educate the people that these foods contain a lot of sugar and that they should watch out,” Dr Tee told The Star.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said yesterday that it was not necessary for the government to regulate bubble tea drinks’ sugar content, as it was up to people themselves not to consume excessive sugar.

The sugar tax, which was imposed on pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages like carbonated drinks and juices from July 1, does not cover made-to-order drinks like bubble tea. 

An excise duty of 40 sen per litre is imposed on soft drinks like carbonated drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages with over 5g of sugar or sugar-based sweetener per 100ml, as well as on fruit and vegetable juices containing over 12g of sugar per 100ml. 

Dietitian Chong Jia Jun told The Star that imposing a sugar tax on made-to-order beverages would also be as effective as awareness campaigns.

“Everyone knows that excessive sugar is bad but does not yet have the readiness to change,” he was quoted saying.

According to Mount Alvernia Hospital from Singapore, brown sugar milk tea with pearls, or boba, contains 18.5 teaspoons of sugar, making it the sweetest bubble tea beverage. A medium-sized 500ml bubble milk tea with pearls contains eight teaspoons of sugar. 

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