Levy on sugary products might not deter Bruneians

National 2 minutes, 35 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

A LEVY on sugary products will result in higher prices for consumers, but it still might not do much to curb obesity among Bruneians, local food and drinks distributors said.

It was reported on Thursday that the Ministry of Health is in discussions with the Royal Customs and Excise Department and the Ministry of Finance on the possibility of imposing taxes on food products and beverages containing high amounts of sugar in a bid to reduce local obesity rates.

Representatives of three local food and drinks distributors (all requesting for anonymity) yesterday said that such a levy and the resulting higher product prices might cause some consumers to reconsider buying products with high-sugar content.

However, they said that many Bruneians are still very fond of sugary products, as shown through their preference for full-sugar beverages over similar beverages containing less sugar.

One distributor said that he was aware of existing levies in other places like the United States and the United Kingdom, saying that they were “very good in the long term” to encourage people to reduce sugar intake through less consumption of sugary products.

The distributor said he understood the effects that such a policy could have “over the whole situation” as it might eventually reduce a country’s overall expenses in treating related-diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

“Consumers will have to pay more for them and they might buy less of these products or look for alternatives or healthier choices.

“However, these are definitely not as tasty as the regular products with the usual amount of sugar... Some people may not like (them),” he said.

He added that his company was always sourcing healthier-choice products and had tried selling products with lower sugar content in the past, but they were not popular among locals.

“They do not sell well and the shelf-life of these healthier choices are also shorter – usually not more than six months – so in the end, we were making a loss,” he said.

A representative of another company said that normal sugar-level beverages consistently sells out faster than those containing less sugar.

“Products with less sugar content can taste different so locals tend not to like them. They tend to enjoy carbonated drinks with tons of sugar in it,” she said.

The representative said that a hike in prices of sugary products might have an effect among the younger generation who are more health-conscious and cost-conscious.

“But if prices went up (in Brunei), I think most people will just get them from neighbouring countries like Malaysia, which is already happening now... especially with the favourable Bruneian dollar to Malaysian ringgit exchange rate,” she said.

A representative of another distributor said that he would not be surprised if the levy was introduced in Brunei, as “this is already practiced elsewhere”.

“For us, we will have no choice if the government really decides to impose taxes on these sugary products.

“But, these costs will carry down to the consumers and they might decide to buy them elsewhere. The economy already isn’t so good at the moment,” he said.

The Brunei Times