By Edu Abade
Public health experts in the private and public sectors have charged the Federal Government on the need to promote healthier alternatives to the consumption of Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs), insisting that the retail prices of the products should be benchmarked on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended 20 per cent minimum tax on SSBs.
They argued that only appropriate taxation on the products would discourage Nigerians from indulging on overconsumption of SSBs that would lead to reduction and elimination of SSB-induced diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM), cardiovascular ailments, cancers and other deadly health conditions associated with the products.
This was their verdict in a communiqué issued after a regional stakeholders’ forum of the South West Zone on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) tax held in Lagos during which participants unanimously agreed that overconsumption of the products had complicated the health conditions of Nigerians.
In his welcome address, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Akinbode Oluwafemi, lamented that the excessive consumption of SSBs is associated with a high risk of overweight and obesity in children, adolescents and adults, adding that there are strong evidences indicating a correlation between SSBs intake and the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health conditions.
“Statistics revealed that as the largest consumer of SSBs in Africa, Nigeria faces significant public health challenges. To reduce SSBs consumption and promote healthy lifestyles among citizens, the Nigerian government introduced a N10 Excise Tax on all non-alcoholic, sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages through the 2021 Finance Act.
“To strengthen policy efforts and advocacy on SSB tax, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the National SSB Tax Coalition with support from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) convened a one-day Regional Stakeholders Forum on SSB Tax in Lagos State,” he said.
He explained that the stakeholders meeting, which attracted prominent individuals and organisations including the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC), media practitioners, nutrition-focused and public health Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS), Ministry of Health, Oyo State Ministry of Health, Osun State and the Osun State Health Insurance Agency was convened to deepen conversations on how to improve public health through reduction in the consumption of SSBs and advocate a more sustainable tax regime in Nigeria on SSBs.
The participants observed that the overconsumption of SSBs in Nigeria had assumed a public health concern linked to the rise in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney diseases, as well as cancer.
They expressed concern that Nigeria’s ranking as the fourth largest global consumer of SSBs portends grave implications for public health while increasing consumption of SSBs in Nigeria is primarily due to the availability and affordability of SSBs, lack of affordable healthy alternatives, cultural and social norms that encourage the consumption of carbonated drinks, lack of public education on the dangers of SSBs and the false marketing and advertising campaigns and strategies of the SSB industry.
“The consumption of SSBs offers no nutritional value but rather constitutes a huge public health and economic burden for the country. The decision of the Federal Government to impose a N10 per litre Excise Tax on SSBs in the country is a step in the right direction, but still falls short of the 20 percent of the final retail price of SSB products as recommended by the WHO and other global health experts.
“Therefore, an effective tax regime on SSB tax will improve public health, influence positive health behavioural changes, and generate fiscal revenue for financing health systems in Nigeria,” the communiqué reads.
The forum, which was organised by CAPPA in collaboration with the National SSBs Tax Coalition, recommended that government and policymakers should engage and collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including civil society organisations, media organisations and healthcare professionals to create robust public awareness on the health risks associated with SSBs consumption and the benefits of the SSBs tax policy.
That government should increase taxation on SSBs towards achieving 20 percent of the retail price as recommended by WHO and establish a monitoring and evaluation and accountability framework to track the implementation and impact of the current SSB tax.
Also, government should implement complementary regulatory instruments like Front-of-Pack Labeling, restricting the availability and marketing of SSBs in schools among others and promote healthier alternatives to SSBs.
“SSB tax campaigners should target key constituents and allies such as education boards, school owners, religious leaders, Parents Teachers Associations (PTAs), the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Ministry of Education, National Health Insurance Authority, Hoteliers Association, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nurses and Midwives Association, supermarket associations, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agencies of Nigeria (SMEDAN), among others to stimulate increased public awareness.
“State authorities must work to champion the sustainability of the SSB tax in Nigeria by localising research on the impact of SSB consumption in their respective states and developing strategies to decrease consumption, thereby reinforcing the campaign for SSB taxation,” they stated.
They stressed that there is the need for national legislation that advocates for the imposition of a pro-health tax and that the Federal Government and regulatory authorities must design and enforce penalties for companies that default on SSB tax obligations.
Other recommendations include that government should earmark revenue generated from the SSBs tax to support and strengthen public health systems in Nigeria, ensure periodic review of the SSBs tax which is indexed on inflation, while stakeholders should conduct further research and studies on the impact of SSBs consumption and taxation in Nigeria to inform evidence-based policymaking and intervention strategies, as well as encourage parents to teach and encourage their children to appreciate the benefits of not consuming SSBs.