It is easy to consume large quantities of sugary drinks because of their availability, affordability, and sizes. Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) are beverages that contain added sugars, including sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and some fruit juices. Excessive consumption of SSBs has been linked to a wide range of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and over 12 types of cancer, tooth decay, cavities, gout, and arthritis, among others.
One of the most effective tools for reducing obesity rates and other NCDs is the implementation of taxes to increase the final retail price of products containing SSBs by at least 20%, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended. The need for SSB tax stems from the fact that they have little or no nutritional value. Instead, their consumption has contributed to an increase in the global burden of NCDs, contributing significantly to the aforementioned illnesses.
Beyond health impact on consumers, the consumption of SSBs result in economic burdens derived from healthcare expenditure, low productivity, permanent disability, and premature deaths. These also impede economic growth.
In Nigeria, Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) remain the leading cause of death and a significant cause of illness and disability. Sadly, Nigeria has the highest prevalence of CVDs in the continent, with more than 11 million Nigerians living with diabetes.
The growing evidence that consuming sugary drinks can lead to a range of health problems motivated the Federal Government to introduce taxes on sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks in 2021. Through this initiative, the government aims to discourage people from excessively consuming them and to raise revenue for public health programmes.
By this action, Nigeria is emulating other nations who know that by making these products more expensive, the demand for them will decline and people will naturally opt for healthier and cheaper options. This can help to improve public health and reduce the burden on healthcare systems.
Several research suggests that the cause of death, especially in developing countries like Nigeria, has shifted from infectious diseases to NCDs due to the prevalence of overweight and obesity. It is for this reason that the Nigerian government must remain determined in increasing the tax on SSBs despite the unpopular argument by the soft drinks industry that taxation would lead to their closing shops.
The WHO guidelines recommend that to prevent obesity and tooth decay, adults and children reduce their consumption of free sugars to less than 10% of their daily energy intake (equivalent to around 12 teaspoons of table sugar for adults). The guidelines suggest further reducing the intake of sugars to below 5% of daily energy intake (about six teaspoons of table sugar for adults) for additional health benefits.
Several arguments have been advanced against these SSB taxes, suggesting that they are not effective, are regressive, negatively affect employment and economic growth, and violate international, regional, and national law. However, concrete evidence from over 40 countries implementing these taxes proves otherwise.
The soft drink industry is usually behind such misinformation and is targeted ultimately at either weakening or killing regulation. They devise different tactics to increase sales, regardless of the health of the uninformed consumers or the amount of money the government spends to manage the prevalence of NCDs. There have been cases when, rather than reduce sugar in their products, the producers of such products reduce the bottle sizes of their brands.
It is important to note that consumers have a right to good and healthy products. Public health should be prioritised over profit, industry actors should be compelled to accept the reality, which is that the SSB tax is a way to reduce the burden of NCDs that are fast increasing nationally.
There is a saying that “A healthy body is a healthy mind”. This phrase must readily come to mind when the temptation to consume sugary drinks comes. With healthy bodies, we can take on the new year in a good state of well-being and can be rest assured about productivity.
By Chidebere Enisire