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Is the new sugar tax enough to curb Malaysians’ sweet tooth?

Is the new sugar tax enough to curb Malaysians’ sweet tooth?

Anne Dorall

The excise duty on ready-to-drink packaged sweetened beverages (ie, the sugar tax) will be implemented on 1 July 2019, in an attempt to curb sugar intake.

However, will this slight increase in price really help Malaysians curb our sugar intake? Or should we crack down harder on sugar and treat it as an addiction much like smoking?

Malaysia has the unfortunate distinction of being the fattest nation in the southeast asian region. Young kids in particular are consuming sugar in alarming quantities, resulting in a surge in child obesity.


Now with the bubble milk tea craze, adults themselves are consuming a large amount of sugary beverages as well. PSA: the recommended maximum serving of bubble tea is one large serving a week.

While the RM0.40/liter sugar tax is a step in the right direction, it may not be enough to slow the addiction to sugar.

Much like nicotine, sugar is an addictive substance, which is why it’s such a difficult habit to kick.


What’s worse is that sugar has so far not been seen as an addiction, rather it is cautioned to be “consumed in moderation”, which is nonsense because everyone has only a vague idea of what “moderation” means.

While sugar itself is not bad, the excessive consumption fuelled by a veiled addiction can lead to heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, stroke or cancer.

The Malaysian cuisine, while gloriously delicious, is actually also really unhealthy and packed with sugar. Hidden sugars are everywhere, but especially in our favourite drinks.

Fun fact: fruit juices often have more sugar than teh tarik, as most places add processed sugar on top of the fruit’s natural sugars.
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If you’ve ever tried to go on a serious no-sugar diet, you may find it extraordinarily difficult in Malaysia. Even “healthy” alternatives like a bowl of Ipoh hor fun or fruit juice has sugar in it. Not to mention, carbs such as rice and noodles are a form of hidden sugar as well.

It comes as no surprise that the average consumption of sugar for Malaysians is at a whopping 26 teaspoons a day, when the recommended maximum is merely around 6 teaspoons a day!

Drastic measures may be required to educate the public of the addictive properties of sugar. Much like how nicotine addiction and cigarette discouragement is taught early-on in schools, the government may need to put sugar-prevention programs in place to educate the children most at risk of excessive consumption.


Many of us may remember the Tak Nak anti-smoking campaign which ran from 2004-2010, which has shown a significant decrease in younger people who pick up the smoking habit.

Perhaps it’s time for a Tak Nak Gula anti-sugar campaign instead?

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