At a two-day comprehensive workshop held in Lagos between March 20 – 21, 2023, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) with support from Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) empowered media practitioners with the requisite information to understand the risks associated with consuming sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), monitor and expose anti-public health tactics by the SSB industry.
At the commencement of the event, Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of CAPPA, delivered a welcome address in which he emphasized the importance of raising awareness about the dangers of consuming SSBs and advocating for a sustainable SSB tax regime in Nigeria. He acknowledged the Nigerian government’s implementation of a N10 per litre tax on carbonated drinks in the country as a necessary step to safeguard citizens from the health risks and consequences that come with consuming sugary drinks.
A keynote speech delivered by Joy Amafah, Nigeria Coordinator, Food Policy Program of the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), emphasized the role of journalists in shaping public opinion and influencing policy decisions. Ms. Joy encouraged journalists to develop a comprehensive understanding of the health impacts of SSBs and the rationale behind SSB taxation in order to avail members of the public with accurate information on policy issues and influence a reduction in the consumption of SSBs.
Dayo Aiyetan, the Executive Director of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting delivered the first presentation at the event which dwelt on Conducting Investigative Reporting into Health and SSB Tax Issues. He stated the importance of media practitioners developing unique reporting techniques that pique the interest of the readers and provide readers with both easy-to-assimilate information and practical facts that influence positive health values. He also emphasized the need for thorough research and verification of sources to ensure the accuracy of reporting.
Dr. Francis Fagbule, a Public Health Specialist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Nigeria, discussed the dangers of consuming SSBs and how they contribute to poor health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. He encouraged journalists to support advocacy efforts to reduce the public consumption of carbonated drinks by using their social platforms to sensitize the public about the impact of SSBs. Dr. Fagbule also highlighted the proliferation of sugary drinks in schools and emphasized the importance of advocating for schools to limit the availability of sugary drinks within learning environments.
A third presentation by Adeolu Adebiyi, Senior Regional Policy Advisor, Food Program, GHAI, focused on the Policy Pathway for Effective SSB Tax. Adeolu addressed the pressing issue of rising diabetes rates in Nigeria and emphasized the importance of implementing a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax to curb consumption and encourage healthier choices. He also identified public addiction to unhealthy products as a prevalent issue and acknowledged that the 10 per litre SSB tax had not significantly impacted SSB prices due to industry absorption and inflation. To further strengthen the campaign for a sustainable tax regime on SSB and improve public awareness, the senior policy advisor proposed policy interventions such as litigation, the development of a comprehensive standalone legislation to address the consumption of SSBs and leveraging existing regulations such as provided by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Adeolu also recommended measures to improve public health and raise awareness around conversations related to SSBs which include regulatory authorities ensuring that producers of SSBs provide accurate details of the level of sugar contained in drinks, empowering journalists with tools and requisite information to monitor and document SSBs and tactics deployed by the industry to undermine the SSB tax campaign, and the promotion of healthier and affordable alternatives to SSBs amongst others.
Simon Kolawole, the Publisher of The Cable Newspaper, delivered a final presentation for the day titled Excite Your Editor with Public Health and SSB Tax Stories. Simon emphasized the crucial role journalists have in shaping public agenda and advised them to always acquire a deep understanding of the subject matter, including industry trends and diverse stakeholder perspectives. To create engaging stories, he encouraged media practitioners to source for intriguing facts, explore unique story angles, humanize content, avoid or simplify technical jargon, write authoritatively, and use infographics for effective communication.
The second day of the training started with a recap session led by Opeyemi Ibitoye, SSB tax Project Officer, CAPPA. She highlighted the key takeaways from the previous day’s presentations, including the rationale for implementing the SSB tax, the health impacts of SSBs, and the importance of monitoring industry behaviour.
Austine Iraoya, a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of the Economics of Africa, proceeded next with a presentation on the Economics of SSB tax and understanding the Finance Act 2021. He discussed the economics of implementing a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax, placing strong emphasis on its behavioural objectives and the necessity to address both market and information failures. While highlighting the escalating health burden caused by excessive sugar consumption, he underscored the critical need for increased public awareness about the associated health risks.
Regarding the structure of tax on SSBs, Austine elucidated that it can be applied in two distinct ways: as a specific tax or as an ad valorem tax, the latter being a percentage of the product’s value. He offered perspectives on diverse approaches to taxing sugary drinks adopted by different countries, with some opting to tax based on the amount of sugar contained within the product. In the context of Nigeria, Austine noted that the SSB tax structure is specifically tailored to target sugar-sweetened beverages.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, spoke on Understanding and Monitoring Industry Interference in Public Health Behaviours and Policies. He underscored the necessity for ongoing vigilance, and cognizance of the strategies employed by SSB industries to meddle with public health policies. Some of the various methods industries utilized by the industry to sway public health behaviors and policies include deceptive marketing campaigns, lobbying legislators and making financial contributions to policymakers or organizations. To effectively scrutinize industry interference, Mr. Akinbode suggested employing tools like media monitoring, examination of industry documents, and collaboration with communities impacted by public health policies. By leveraging these tools, stakeholders can detect industry interference and devise plans to counter it.
In a presentation on Developing Story Ideas, Dr. Olayinka Oyegbile, a seasoned media practitioner emphasized the importance of reporting timely and relevant subject matters to captivate and inform readers. Journalists were encouraged to stay updated on current affairs and emerging trends in their fields. Going beyond superficial aspects of a story to uncover underlying issues that impact the audience was highlighted, along with prioritizing the human element to understand real-life implications and share affected individuals’ experiences. He concluded by offering valuable guidance on crafting engaging story ideas, urging journalists to create insightful and enlightening content that engages readers and clarifies complex issues. By staying informed, emphasizing the human aspect, and utilizing multimedia tools, journalists can create compelling narratives that resonate with their audience.
To wrap up the presentations, Abayomi Sarunmi, Programme and Digital Manager, CAPPA exposed participants to Digital Tools to Support Public Health/SSB Tax Reporting. Various digital tools, such as data visualization, social media monitoring, and content creation tools, were discussed. Journalists were encouraged to stay current with technological advancements to enhance public health reporting. Digital tools can be utilized for data analysis, trend tracking, and audience engagement, particularly when monitoring industry publications undermining the SSB tax. An interactive session allowed media practitioners to simulate digital media campaigns aimed at improving the SSB tax campaign in Nigeria and analyze media materials on digital channels. The importance of not conceding journalism on digital media to paid influencers, who could spread misinformation, was also stressed.
The highly interactive and informative workshop came to end with a feedback and evaluation session moderated by CAPPA’s Policy and Research Officer, Zikora Ibeh. This exercise granted participants the chance to articulate their evaluations and insights regarding various facets of the training. Attendees expressed gratitude to CAPPA for the knowledge-rich workshop and proffered suggestions to enhance both the training experience and the SSB tax campaign.
In a closing remark, Phillip Jakpor, Director of Programmes at CAPPA, expressed his gratitude to all participants, the CAPPA and GHAI teams, for their active participation and valuable contributions towards the success of the two-day training. He acknowledged that the participants had gained valuable insights and knowledge on how to effectively report on public health and SSB tax issues. Furthermore, he encouraged all participants to apply the skills and knowledge gained in their future reporting endeavours. He concluded by informing the journalists that the resource persons and the CAPPA team would always be available to provide necessary guidance and support for the SSB tax campaign.