Incentives mulled to tone down drinks

Incentives mulled to tone down drinks

Impact on sugar-cane growers considered

Soft drinks on display at a supermarket in Bangkok. The government is considering incentives to entice drink makers to cut down on the sugar content in their products. PATTARACHAI PREECHAPANICH
Soft drinks on display at a supermarket in Bangkok. The government is considering incentives to entice drink makers to cut down on the sugar content in their products. PATTARACHAI PREECHAPANICH

The Finance Ministry is considering offering incentives for drink makers to lower the sugar content of their products as part of government efforts to improve public health.

The idea remains conceptual and needs further study, said Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong, without revealing what kind of incentives could be offered.

The UN health agency last year urged countries to start taxing sugary drinks to help combat an obesity epidemic, pointing to evidence that price hikes can dramatically reduce consumption. The World Health Organization has estimated that a 20% price increase leads to a cut in consumption by 20%, while a 50% hike similarly cuts consumption in half.

Mr Apisak said it needs to study the impact from such tax hikes on sugar-cane growers and drink makers, as well as the public health benefits.

The Finance Ministry has previously discussed lowering the sugar content of beverages with drink manufacturers, who had requested five years to implement any such cuts, although the ministry had only given them a two-year period to make the adjustment, he said.

The Excise Department currently taxes carbonated drinks and fruit juices based on volume or value.

Meanwhile, director-general of the Fiscal Policy Office Krisada Chinavicharana reiterated no conclusions had been made on what incentives could be provided to drink makers.

Drinks with higher sugar content could be taxed at a higher rate than those with lower sugar, he said, adding that the tax could be incremental, depending on the level of sweetness.

The Thai Health Promotion Foundation last year released a study on the consumption of sugar among Thais.

According to the study, which was conducted among 20,000 people aged 15 and above in 21 provinces, including Bangkok, improvements had been seen in some major health areas such as consumption of alcohol and smoking.

But despite those positive changes, many Thais were still found to be hooked on sugary drinks.

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