By Agbonkhese Oboh
A forum of stakeholders has called on the Federal Government to raise the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, SSB, Tax to 20% as recommended by the World Health Organisation, WHO; promote healthier alternatives to SSBs, and ensure periodic review of the tax indexed on inflation.
The forum also noted that excessive consumption of SSBs is associated noncommunicable diseases, NCDs, such as Type 2 diabetes mellitus, T2DM; cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other health conditions.
Therefore, as the largest consumer of SSBs in Africa, Nigeria faces significant public health challenges.
The South-West one-day regional stakeholders forum held in Lagos, reached the above decisions, among others, to strengthen policy efforts and advocacy on SSB Tax.
The forum was convened by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, and the National SSB Tax Coalition with support from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, GHAI.
The stakeholders meeting attracted prominent individuals and organisations including the
Nigeria Customs Service, NCS; National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control, NAFDAC; media representatives, nutrition-focused and public health Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, and Nigerian Medical Association, NMA.
State agencies such as the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, Oyo State Ministry of Health, Osun Ministry of Health and the Osun State Health Insurance Agency, were also represented.
To reduce SSBs consumption and promote healthy lifestyles among citizens, the Federal Government introduced a N10/litre Excise Tax on all non-alcoholic, sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages through the 2021 Finance Act.
Although it falls short of the N20 per litre recommended by WHO, the tax is aimed at raising the price of sweetened drinks, thereby discouraging buyers, who would then seek healthier alternatives.
However, besides other practises to undermine the purpose of the tax, the beverage industry absorbs the additional cost, thereby keeping the price of the drinks down.
The affected drinks include any liquids, powders or other forms that contain natural or added sweeteners.
Soft drinks, juices, nectars, sweetened coffee, sugar cane juice, sweetened tea, energy drinks and flavoured dairy products fall into this group.
Therefore, the SSB Tax introduced through the Finance Act 2021 under Section 17, was received as a pro-health tax to curb sugary drinks intake.
But rights groups still insist a lot still needs to be done.
So CAPPA and its partners convened the South-West stakeholders forum, the first of many, on the tax.
Some of the observations noted in a communique signed by Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, CAPPA, were:
That Nigeria’s ranking as the fourth largest global consumer of SSBs portends grave implications for public health.
Also, 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 of the SSB industry.
The stakeholders also said 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 Nigerian 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% of the final retail price of SSB products as recommended by global health experts.
They also agreed that an effective tax regime on SSB will improve public health, influence positive health behavioural changes and generate fiscal revenue for financing health systems in Nigeria.
Other recommendations made by the forum were:
Government and policymakers should engage and collaborate with relevant stakeholders to create public awareness of the health risks associated with SSB consumption and the benefits of the SSBs tax policy.
The need for a monitoring, evaluation and accountability framework to track the implementation and impact of the current SSB tax policy.
Government should implement complementary regulatory instruments like Front-of-Pack Labelling, restricting the availability and marketing of SSBs in school environments, among others.
SSB tax campaigners should target key constituents and allies such as education boards, school owners, religious leaders, Parents Teachers Associations, Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Ministry of Education, National Health Insurance Authority, hoteliers association, Nigerian Union of Teachers, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nurses and Midwives Association, supermarket associations, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agencies of Nigeria 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 within their respective states and developing strategies to decrease consumption, thereby reinforcing the campaign for SSB taxation.
The forum stressed the need for national legislation that advocates the imposition of a pro-health
tax, and design and enforce penalties for companies that default on SSB tax obligations.
Stakeholders should conduct further research and studies on the impact of SSBs consumption and taxation to inform evidence-based policymaking and intervention strategies.
Parents, they said, need to be encouraged to teach children to appreciate the benefits of not consuming SSBs.
The rights activist said the stakeholders’ forum was going to hold in all the geo-political zones of the country as part of the campaign to keep the issues around the SSB Tax on the front burner.