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Be firm on proposed increase of SSB tax, coalition tells FG

flays industry propaganda as Nigeria's diabetes health expenditure grosses N745b

By Edu Abade,

 

A coalition of activists and public health advocates has charged the Federal Government to be resolute in its decision and act fast on the proposed increase of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) tax in the 2023 fiscal year.

Delivering a speech on behalf of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Coalition (SSBC) at a media briefing to Expose the False Industry Narratives on SSB Tax in Lagos on December 19, 2022, Executive Director of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Akinbode Oluwafemi, said Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) have constituted serious public health issue and as such, the Federal Government should increase the tax from the N10 per one litre to N20, which will still largely fall short of the World Heal Organisation’s (WHO) recommended standard.

His words: In 2021, the Federal Government introduced the SSB Tax. The #10/litre excise tax was introduced through the Finance Act 2021 on carbonated drinks and sugar-sweetened non-alcoholic beverages produced, imported, distributed, and sold in Nigeria. The tax being collected by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) on behalf of the Federal Government did not come into force until June 2022.

“SSBs include non-alcoholic beverages we popularly refer to as soft drinks (i.e, cola, sodas), juices (even 100 per cent juices), nectars, sweetened coffee, sugar cane juice, malt drinks, sweetened tea, energy drinks, sports drinks, and flavoured dairy drinks. They are always loaded with high calories and add no nutritional value.”

He explained that the high calories consumed in SSBs which lead to excessive weight gain. SSBs’ liquid sugar is easily absorbed into the body and significantly alters the body’s metabolism, which ultimately affects insulin, cholesterol, and metabolites that cause high blood pressure and inflammation and are linked to the increasing rate of obesity and diabetes in the country.

“The Federal Government has consistently maintained that SSB Tax is a pro-health tax aimed at reducing overconsumption of sugary drinks in other to lower the burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), adding that in 2021, the International Diabetic Federation (IDF) said the total diabetes-related health expenditure in Nigeria grossed N745 billion.

“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 WHO noted that more than 41 million people die from NCDs with 77 per cent of that staggering death occurring in the Low-and-Medium Income Countries (LMIC) where Nigeria is also categorised. It further noted that unhealthy diets increase the chances of dying from NCDs,” he stated.

He disclosed that the National Sugar Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition, comprising 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.

The coalition, therefore, urged the Federal Government to be firm in defending the health of the country by enacting the proposed N20 Naira per litre law with immediate application from January 1, 2023, maintaining 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 WHO recommended 20 percent of retail price.

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It also charged the government should also begin necessary engagements towards enacting the necessary policy to ensure that the SSB tax is dedicated to public health and start massive education on the dangers of overconsumption of Sugar Sweetened Beverages.

On his part, a public health professional with the Department of Periodontology and Community Dentistry, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Dr Francis Fagbule, Project Officer for SSB Tax, Opeyemi Ibitoye, clarified industry misinformation on the sugar-sweetened beverages and enjoined Nigerians and media practitioners to join the voice in the need to increase tax on SSBs and reduce the burden of NCDs in the country.

He lamented that the country has witnessed a steady increase in NCDs in the last three decades, saying: Nigerians suffering from hypertension have risen from 4.3 million in 1995 (or 8.6 per cent) to 27.5million in 2020 (or 32.5 per cent), while cases of diabetes type II increased from 874, 000 in 1990 (or 2 per cent) to 6 million in 2022 (or 76 per cent).

According to Fagbule, pre-diabetic cases are even higher by 30 per cent, overweight rose to 21 million in 2020 (at 20.3 per cent), while obesity increased to 12 million in 2020 by 11.6 per cent, just as the increase in NCDs has coincided with the increase in consumption of SSB diets and unhealthy diets or Westernisation of Nigerians’ diet.

He stressed that it was important that urgent steps are taken to address the growing public health challenges, insisting that one of the ways to prevent or reduce the burden would be taxation of free sugars, especially those present in SSB products, especially raising the tax to N20 per litre, subject to yearly increase.

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