Indonesia mulls sugar tax to cut down on diabetes

Since mid-2022, social media chatters have highlighted the health risk of increasing consumption of snacks and packaged drinks with high sugar content. With the rising number of diabetics cases, social media users started to petition the government to implement a sugar tax.

Ernawaty, public health researcher, Airlangga University (UNAIR) Surabaya, said the government should take this petition seriously as many Indonesians are fond of these sugar-laden snacks and drinks, and the public awareness campaigns on the dangers of excessive sugar consumption did not show positive result.

“Many Indonesians still believe the myth that if you don’t consume sugar, you will feel weak. Well, this is false. We need more education in this area to dispel this kind of harmful myth, but education does not seem to work, so we need the government to impose a sugar tax so that prices will increase and people will think twice about buying it,” Ernawaty said.

Hariadi, public health researcher, Nahdlatul Ulama, said the government had previously considered a 20 percent tax for sugared snacks and packaged drinks and now is the time to have the political will to implement it. It is now more pressing as research has shown the consumption of sugary drinks has increased by more than 15 percent in the last 20 years. In addition, in 2021, there were 19.47 million Indonesians who suffered from diabetes, and this number is projected to increase to 28.57 million people by 2045.

“The government should not hesitate. There are already many other countries which have already implemented a sugar tax, including the U.S., UK, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand. In Thailand, for example, when the tax was imposed, consumption of carbonated drinks dropped drastically by 15 percent. According to my research, there should be a similar drop in Indonesia,” said Hariadi.

Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist, also supported a sugar tax and suggested IDR 20,000 per liter, which can then be used to fund social programs for the community. He said there are four million people suffering from diabetes, 90 percent of that are caused by lifestyle habits and a tax will definitely reduce people’s dependence on sugary drinks.

Ali Gufron, owner of a fast food and sweetened beverage brand, said he is ready to implement a sugar tax even if it cuts into his profits because he believes in a healthy diet. 

On the other hand, Elia Mustikasari, economist, Airlangga University Surabaya, said a sugar tax should not be imposed because of the current difficult economic condition.

In an official statement, Askolani, director general of customs and excise, confirmed regulations for implementing the sugar tax are being prepared. Sri Mulyani, minister of finance, said there will be a potential state income of IDR 6.25 trillion if the sugar tax is imposed.

Photos credit: Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo, Indonesia journalist, is a former political journalist with high dedication and determination to his craft. He is interested in writing about politics and international relations.

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