By Sakini Mohd Said
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- I was having a chat with my journalist friend Noraina Hashim in a cafe recently when she spoke of a colleague of hers who cannot work unless he consumes some carbonated drink.
Noraina, 28, told me her colleague, who she identified as Hadi, would seem restless and unable to think clearly if he does not have a can of fizzy drink on his table to "fuel his brain".
"Ever since he became a journalist, it has become a habit for him to have a fizzy drink whilst working on his article. Sometimes, he would have consumed three to four cans by the time he has completed one article.
"In case he has two or three stories to complete in a day, you can imagine how many cans of those sugar-laden drinks he would have to drink," she said.
That was the first time I had heard of a reporter who was addicted to sodas. It is usual for us journalists to drink coffee, chew gum or eat chips to get some inspiration whilst completing an assignment.
Unfortunately for Hadi, who was in his 30s, all that sugar that went into his body took its toll later on after he was diagnosed with diabetes.
"He suffered from complications and was on sick leave for months. When he returned to work, he looked slimmer. Perhaps, he was taking care of his food intake," Noraina told me.
When one gets diabetes at a relatively young age, he or she will most likely have to bear with it for a lifetime because this lifestyle disease is not easy to cure although it can be controlled with a proper diet and exercise regime.
Just imagine having to take medication to control your diabetes for the rest of your life. Diet control is very important to avoid complications such as kidney failure, blindness and heart disease. Diabetes will not only affect one's quality of life but also their productivity at their workplace.
My friend Noraina welcomed the government's move to impose an excise duty on sugary drinks starting July 1 as she felt that the higher prices would discourage the people from consuming such products.
On Nov 2 last year, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had announced when unveiling Budget 2019 that a 40 sen tax per litre will be imposed on soft drinks sold in ready-to-drink packages.
These drinks comprise carbonated or flavoured drinks containing more than five grams of sugar or sugar-based sweetener per 100 millilitres, as well as fruit and vegetable juices that have more than 12 grams of sugar per 100 ml.
Although the sugar tax proposal went down well with most people, certain groups, however, were sceptical that it would meet its objective as consumers would turn to other sweetened beverages such as teh tarik.
The excise duty imposed on carbonated and flavoured drinks does not cover beverages served at restaurants and stalls.
Noraina told me that after she heard of her colleague Hadi's condition, she was now afraid to consume sugary drinks.
"Even my father is a diabetic and has just recovered from a stroke. My father was fond of drinking three-in-one beverages but he put a stop to it after being diagnosed with diabetes," she said.
I agree that the sugar tax is not the one and only way to tackle the increasing prevalence of diabetes in Malaysia as a more holistic approach would be needed to tackle this health issue. Nevertheless, the introduction of the tax is at least a good start by the government to curb the consumption of all those sweet soft drinks.
The government seems to be very focused on combating diabetes, a non-communicable disease, as the patient numbers are on the rise each year.
In March, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad was quoted by the media as saying that about 3.6 million Malaysians suffer from diabetes, the highest rate of incidence in Asia and among the highest in the world.
He also said that seven million adults are estimated to have diabetes by 2025. Describing this as a worrying trend, the minister said it will see a diabetes prevalence of 31.3 percent for adults aged 18 and above.
According to statistics gathered by government health clinics in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, there are some 33,000 diabetic patients in the two federal territories.
The rising patient numbers will put a strain on the government's expenditure. Under Budget 2019, the Health Ministry received an allocation of RM29 billion, which is the highest-ever sum allocated to the ministry in a budget. However, the amount will not be sufficient if Malaysians continue to be indifferent to their health.
On its part, the Health Ministry is putting its focus on the 'prevention is better than cure' approach and on this front, the surcharge on carbonated and flavoured drinks is among the strategies it has taken so far.
Other countries have also implemented the sugar tax and according to their records, the move has succeeded in reducing sugar consumption among the public.
Mexico, which was one of the first few countries to have such a tax in place, introduced it in 2014, following which prices of sugar-laden drinks went up by between 10 and 12 percent which led to a significant drop in consumption.
(The views expressed in this commentary are the writer's own.)
Translated by Rema Nambiar