KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 19 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) previously suggested a tax on sugary drinks that is 1.5 times higher than the current quantum, an officer revealed.
Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha, a consultant public health physician and deputy director of MOH’s disease control division, said the current tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) was not high enough to change behaviours.
“The quantum that has been announced when we announced SSB tax, that was not the quantum that we wanted. It was a quarter of what we wanted,” Dr Feisul told a recent forum organised by the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy here titled “One Year After The World Cancer Congress”.
“MOH had done a study and we knew that we needed to reach a certain threshold before people change their purchasing behaviour. The current tax is not high enough. We’ll continue to push for that.”
Under the SSB tax that came into effect since last July 1, 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.
Dr Feisul said MOH also wanted higher tobacco taxes, but noted that the decision belonged to the Finance Ministry and the Customs Department.
“We need to tax more on tobacco, tax more on alcohol. It’s something that we have not actively pursued. I’m not sure why. Maybe people think it’s sensitive.”
Breast Cancer Welfare Association president Ranjit Kaur suggested at the forum that the government earmark sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco for medical treatment or for MOH’s budget.
“That’s another area we can strongly suggest so that your ministry gets more funding,” she told the forum.
Dr Feisul said in response: “Sin tax is something that we want to push forward, even the SSB tax, it’s something that would be beneficial even for the cancer agenda.”
Cancer advocates have called for more money to fund new oncology medicines in government hospitals, suggesting methods like a cancer drugs fund or diverting a percentage of sin taxes to cancer treatment.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said last March, however, that revenue from the SSB tax would fund free breakfast programmes for primary school children.