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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Govt urged to stand firm on proposed increase of sugar sweetened beverages tax

The Federal Government of Nigeria has been told to be very firm in defending the health of the country by enacting the proposed N20/litre tax on Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSB) into law with immediate application from January 1, 2023.

L-R: Dr. Francis Fagbunle, public health expert; Akinbode Oluwafemi, CAPPA ED; and Opeyemi Ibitoye, project officer, CAPPA SSB Tax Campaign

Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), who made the submission in Lagos on Monday, December 19, 2022, at a media session, added that, beyond the yearly Finance Act process, the Federal Government should institute a sustainable legal framework for SSB tax with clear timelines for attaining the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended 20% of retail price.

Oluwafemi spoke against the backdrop of alleged resistance of the carbonated drinks industry to the tax, which he said is aimed at reducing overconsumption of sugary drinks in other to lower the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and raise revenue to fund health-related initiatives.

“Today the National Sugar Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition, made up of over 30 non-governmental organisations and public health professionals across the country, is asking the government not to succumb to cheap blackmail of an industry that places profit above the health of our people,” Oluwafemi stated, even as he urged the authorities to begin necessary engagements towards enacting the necessary policy to ensure that the SSB tax is dedicated to public health.

He also wants government to commence massive education on the dangers of over consumption of SSBs, which include non-alcoholic beverages popularly referred to as soft drinks, juices, nectars, sweetened coffee, sugar cane juice, malt drinks, sweetened tea, energy drinks, sport drinks, and flavoured dairy drinks.

He said: “Because of the high calories consumed in SSBs, it leads to excessive weight gain. SSBs’ liquid sugar is easily absorbed into the body, and those sugars alter the body’s metabolism, affecting insulin, cholesterol, and metabolites that cause high blood pressure and inflammation and is linked to the increasing rate of obesity and diabetes in the country.

“Medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, and other complications associated with unchecked consumption of sugary drinks are in the category of the largest killer on a global scale. The World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that more than 41 million people die from NCDs with 77% of that staggering death occurring in the Low-and-Medium Income Countries (LMIC) where Nigeria is also categorised. It further noted that an unhealthy diet increases the chances of dying from NCDs.

“In 2021, the International Diabetic Federation (IDF) said that the total diabetes related health expenditure in Nigeria grossed at N745 billion. This is a staggering cost for a nation where many live below the poverty line. The cost of managing health complications of diabetes is not unconnected to the fact that Nigeria now ranks fourth on the global list of countries consuming sugary drinks.

“A 2020 World Bank report placed obesity-related diseases among the top three killers in the world. The unchecked consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is a risk factor for obesity and overweight, which lead to other health complications which include but not limited to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, 13 of the 15 major types of cancer, and stroke.

“With more than 12 million people recorded to be obese in Nigeria in 2020, and current number of those aware of their diabetic status put at more than 11 million Nigerians, the SSB tax remains a commendable approach and an effective tool of government to tackle the impending pandemic.”

Oluwafemi stated that, in the light of the dangers this portends for the country, not only in terms of health, but also the financial implications and its effects on quality of life of the citizens, the government of Nigeria must be commended for taking “the bold but difficult step” of increasing the tax.

“However, for the government to achieve its mandate on reducing the cases of NCDs through the SSB tax, the minimum recommendation by the WHO is 20% tax on the final retail price of the SSB product. The current N10/litre imposed across all SSBs has been easily absorbed by the producers, a defeat of the initial policy purpose. Same with the even the proposed N20 being proposed by the government. Even at N20/litre we are still behind the WHO recommendation,” he said.

The activist accused carbonated drinks industry practitioners of resisting the proposed increase and in the process relegating public health concerns and focus solely on their profit – at the detriment of the consumers “whose resources service their lavish and luxurious lifestyle”.

His words: “They also ignore the impending dangers from overloading the next generation who now carries SSBs as a must in their lunch packs and only crave these carbonated drinks every now and then. They said it is wrong for government to impose the tax to protect public health. To them health does not matter; my life, your life does not matter. What matters is their profit.

“It is also worrisome, as we have seen in many quarters, especially paid live interviews, how they spring up false data on Nigeria’s sugar consumption level. In the same vein, the industry actors have continued to tell Nigerians that the SSB tax is another way for the government to impoverish the people and inflict more pain on them. It is so sad that an industry that wants to operate within the ambit of the law is instigating citizens against government. This is sad and extremely condemnable.”

Also speaking, Dr Francis Fagbule, a public health professional at the Department of Periodontology and Community Dentistry, University College Hospital, Ibadan, said that consumption of SSB and other free sugar with no nutritional value is a major cause of NCDs – obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, COPD, etc. and that studies have conclusively determined that there is a causal relationship. He added that Nigeria has witnessed a tremendous rise in NCDs over the last three decades.

He said: “The increase in NCDs has coincided with the increase in consumption of SSB diets and unhealthy diets (westernisation of our diet). It is important that steps are taken to address these growing public health challenges. One of the ways to prevent/reduce the burden includes taxation of free sugars, especially those present in SSB products.”

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