Pharmacist, Barnabas Yahaya, is Provider Behaviour Change Officer with Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria. He is a member of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition which comprises of civil society organisations, public health advocacy groups, and religious and community-based organisations, among others. In this interview, he gives insight into the benefits of the SSB Tax and importance of earmarking of the tax for public health
Can you explain the concept of the sugar-sweetened beverages tax, its potential impact on public health and how this tax differs from others?
Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax (SSB Tax) is a tax imposed on drinks or beverages containing sugar as a sweetener, with the aim of reducing sugar consumption and its related health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. This tax potentially increases the price of sugar-sweetened beverages, which is predicted to discourage people from buying and consuming such high-sugar-containing drinks. Compared to other forms of product taxes, this tax is different as it targets specific goods rather than a general category of goods.
Overall, the SSB tax drive aims to bring a sustained behavioural change on the part of the consumers as they drastically reduce the consumption of unhealthy products, rather than simply raising revenue. The success of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax in improving public health will depend on various factors, including the tax rate, consumer behaviour, and availability of alternative drinks while safeguarding the health and wellness of people.
How do you see this tax impacting the sustainability of communities, both in terms of health outcomes and economic impacts?
While the SSB Tax policy as we have it in Nigeria does not currently reflect global standards and the yearnings of the public health experts, the impact on communities will be dependent on the factors such as the tax rate, the extent to which it is implemented, and the way or channel to which accrued revenue has been utilised to the benefit of the people.
In terms of health outcomes, a sugar-sweetened beverage tax has been globally identified as an effective approach in causing a significant decrease in the consumption of high sugar-containing drinks with a resultant lowering of incidences of public health diseases such as obesity, and type 2 diabetes among others.
Furthermore, on the economic impacts, the sugar-sweetened beverage tax can generate revenue for governments, which must be used to fund public health initiatives and other community services that benefits the taxpayers directly.
How do you measure the effectiveness of this tax in reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages? What strategy can be put in place for the long-term sustainability of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax?
Some methods that can provide a comprehensive picture of the impact of the sugary drinks tax on consumption and help assess its effectiveness in reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages include Sales data analysis – comparing sales data of sugary drinks before and after the implementation of the tax can provide an estimate of the change in consumption. Conducting surveys on consumer behaviour and preferences can provide insight into the change in demand for sugary drinks, assessing changes in public health indicators such as reduction in the prevalence rate of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses can indicate whether the tax has been effective in reducing consumption and improving public health. The use of economic models to simulate the effects of the tax on consumption, prices, and health outcomes can provide an estimate of its effectiveness.
Furthermore, regularly evaluating the impact of the tax and adjusting the tax rate or structure as needed can help maintain its effectiveness in reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. Launching public education campaigns to raise awareness across all levels about the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages and the benefits of reducing their consumption can help sustain the impact of the tax while reinvesting tax revenues into programs that support healthy eating and physical activity can help build support for the tax and create additional incentives for reducing sugary drink consumption.
Other strategies include monitoring compliance with the tax and enforcing penalties for non-compliance will help to ensure that the tax is having the intended impact and proper implementation of these strategies can help to ensure the long-term sustainability of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax and its effectiveness in reducing diseases associated with the consumption and its cost on the individual as well as the country.
Are there potential negative impacts of the SSB tax on the economy and what are the plans to sensitise and educate the population, especially the economic impact on small businesses or low-income individuals?
There is no impact that outweighs the benefits accruable to public health, universal health coverage, and reduction of avoidable deaths. In economic terms, individuals will save more money for personal and family use when they are not spending on diseases associated with the overconsumption of SSBs. They will also become more productive and healthier, contribute more to their earnings, and improve social standards.
However, people are used to consuming these products and it is normal to see it as an attack on their favourite things even when it is only a myth. To avoid a revolt of the people the government is trying to protect from these deadly diseases, we must continue to engage the public, just like we are doing with this interview. Town hall meetings, Outreach, and educational engagements to help the people understand the dangers of SSBs and the benefits of the SSB tax are important.
Government must provide technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses to help them understand and implement the tax policy. It will also be of great help if healthier alternatives are made available to the rather than forcing unhealthy choices on them. Government must also communicate its policies regularly to small and medium-sized businesses including such taxes, their purpose and impact.
What steps will be taken to ensure the revenue generated from this tax is used to the benefit of Nigerians?
One of the major focuses of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition is to see the government put in place a framework that will allow it to take the tax and use it appropriately for public health. This means that the government must now establish clear and transparent processes for collecting, reporting, and accounting for the revenue generated by the tax to ensure that the funds are used as intended, for public health.
As I have also mentioned throughout this interview, we must continue to engage with the relevant stakeholders, including public health organizations, consumer advocacy groups, and the beverage industry, in the decision-making process to ensure that the revenue is used in a way that is in the best interest of public health while we regularly monitor and evaluate the use of the revenue generated. Lastly, we must establish a long-term plan for the revenue generated by the tax to ensure that it is used in a sustainable manner over time, engage the people, provide tax rebates or other financial assistance to low-income households or offers healthier beverage options in low-income communities, as well as monitor and evaluate the whole policy.
How does this tax align with the broader goals of promoting sustainability and public health? Can you share examples of other countries that have implemented similar taxes and their results?
The SSB tax policy clearly aligns with the broader goals of promoting sustainability and public health when there is a significant decrease in the consumption of unhealthy drinks, increased funding available for public health initiatives, support for healthier food choices and the promotion of sustainable health practices.
As it addresses health disparities by reducing the consumption of unhealthy SSBs in communities that are disproportionately affected by obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related health issues. SSB tax perfectly aligns with these goals.
A classic example is the adoption and implementation of a 50% tax on carbonated drinks and a 100% tax on energy drinks in the United Arab Emirates which took effect on January 1, 2020.