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Increasing tax on sugar sweetened beverages

Globally, taxation has been an effective method for reducing consumption of unhealthy foods. The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers fiscal policies priority interventions for the pro- motion of healthy eating in its Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). The taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is one of such fiscal policies which is expected to raise the prices of such products thereby lowering their consumption. SSBs are categorized as liquids that contain natural or added sweeteners, including various forms of sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, lactose, malt syrup, malt- ose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose. The World Health Organisa- tion (WHO) reports indicate that as of May 2022, over 80 countries and jurisdictions (including sub- national levels) had levied taxes on SSBs.

Some African countries, in- cluding Nigeria, have enacted SSB tax policies. Nigeria government adopted a sugary drinks tax to tackle rising levels of obesity and other diseases in the country. The tax was signed into law as part of the 2021 Finance Act. It adds N10 to each litre of all `non- alcoholic and sweetened bever- ages`. Sadly, deaths from non-commu- nicable diseases have remained high in Nigeria, rising calls for the Federal Government to fur- ther jerk up taxes on sugary bev- erages and drinks. The cost of managing diabetes is also enormous. Roundtable discourse It was based on this premise that the National Action on Sugar Reduction (NASR) hosted some journalists in Abuja to highlight the significance of healthy food policies such as the Sugar Sweet- ened Beverage (SSB) tax. The event was in commemoration of the 2022 Gatefield and NASR Journalism fellows and provided a platform to discuss the future of advocacy for the SSB tax in Nigeria. During the event, Shirley Ewang, Advocacy Specialist at Gatefield, emphasized the need to sustain advocacy for the sustenance and increase of the SSB tax in Nigeria. She stressed the timeliness of this as the beverage industry is pushing back on the tax and calling for its removal. Speaking at the event, Joy Amafah, Global Health Advocacy Incu- bator spoke about the rise of non- communicable diseases (NCDs) in Nigeria and the importance of healthy food policies in reducing and preventing them.

Rachel Abujah, Gatefield pro- health journalism fellow, disclosed that Nigeria currently lacks an efficient food policy and that the government should define the tax and earmark it for health purposes. Abujah emphasized that the government should ensure that the funds from the tax were used appropriately to improve public health. Soft drinks & diabetes To dispel the myth that soft drinks and other SSBs don’t lead to type 2 diabetes, Usman Bello, one of the fellows, highlighted research from the Harvard Medical School, which revealed that consuming just one can of soft drink daily in- creases the chance of getting type two diabetes by 26 per cent. Bello stressed that while sugary drinks may not be the direct cause of type 2 diabetes, they are a major risk factor with no nutritional value. Precious Livinus, a nursing mother said she is aware of the danger associated with sugar sweetened beverages but can’t stop consuming it. “The sugar in some of these soft drinks is not natural sugar and I also learnt that its harmful but I can’t stop consuming it. The longest that I have stayed without drinking SSB is three days. I tried to stop taking it but I can’t because I am somewhat addicted to it,” she said. Usman Salami, a brick layer in his late 40 said SSB is like en- ergy booster to him whenever he feels weak. “The fastest way I can build my energy is with SSB but I just pray that God delivers me from the addiction because SSB has really affected the health of my friends, I am lucky I am still healthy and I will try to stop con- suming it,” he said. Cost of treatment President of the Nigerian Can- cer Society (NCS), Dr Adamu Umar, said as health costs and deaths linked to health-harming products such as SSBs mount, it is imperative for the Federal Govern- ment to sustain the SSB tax.

“It is the responsibility of every government to protect, promote, and guarantee the health of its citizens – as per their national constitutions, legislation, regulations, and policies, as well as international conventions,” he said. Ms Veronica Schoj, Vice Presi- dent, Food and Nutrition, at Global Health Advocacy Incubator, said that the revenue realised from the tax can be used for health pro- grammes. According Schoj the tax is a win- win-win for governments because it discourages the consumption of the sugary products and encourages consumers to make healthier choices while also fueling the country with resources to support health programmes.

“The SSBs contribute to all forms of malnutrition, reducing the consumption of nutritious food,” she said. Effect of SSB tax Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi, Ex- ecutive Director of Corporate Ac- countability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), said the SSB tax can generate additional rev- enue that can be used to fund pre- vention and treatment programs for Non Communicable Diseases c(NCDs) in the country. Oluwafemi said that the suc- cessful implementation and sus- tainability of the SSB tax regime require the collaboration and en- gagement of all stakeholders, in- cluding the government, private sector and civil society organisa- tions. However, the Director-General, Budget Office of Federation (BoF), Mr Ben Akabueze, said that given the country’s low sugar consump- tion, many question the necessity of an SSB tax. Akabueze acknowl- edged that the prevalence of NCDs is on the rise in the country. “Prevention is always better than cure. We should not wait to get to a crisis point to take steps,” he said.

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