As part of its efforts to cultivate public support, awareness and ownership of Nigeria’s sugar-sweetened beverages tax (SSB TAX), CAPPA convened a regional stakeholders’ forum on SSB Tax on March 29, 2023, in Lagos, Nigeria, with support from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI). Participants at the forum included civil society organizations focused on nutrition and public health, representatives, media practitioners, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC), the Nigeria Customs Service, and state-level entities such as the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, the Ministry of Health, Oyo State, and the Osun State Health Insurance Agency.
In his opening remarks at the forum, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, CAPPA, underscored the substantial evidence linking SSB consumption to obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). He noted that despite Nigeria’s introduction of a N10 per litre excise tax on SSBs in 2021, the fiscal policy still falls short of causing a reasonable increase in the retail price of SSBs – at least by 20% as recommended by global health experts and bodies – that will reduce public purchase and consumption of SSBs. Thus, the forum aims to galvanize stakeholders to advocate for higher taxation on SSBs, and champion the allocation of revenue generated from SSB tax to improving public health outcomes and systems.
Also giving opening remarks at the programme, Adebisi Akande, who represented the Commissioner of Health, Oyo State, Bode Ladipo, stressed the importance of raising awareness over the negative health impacts of consuming sugary drinks, called for effective regulation to limit children’s consumption of SSBs in schools, and grassroots action to promote healthier lifestyles.
The forum featured presentations from health experts such as Dr. Fagbule, a public health professional and researcher who enlightened participants on The Burden of SSB Consumption on Public Health. The consumption of SSBs has been classified based on scientific evidence as a risk factor for NCDs. Excessive intake of SSBs not only contributes to weight gain but also an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases, as well as dental caries. Although SSBs are considered empty calories as they offer no nutritional value, their low commercial prices make them accessible to all socioeconomic groups. The high affordability cost and low promotion of healthier alternatives are also significant factors that encourage the public preference for SSBs.
Presently, Nigeria ranks as the fourth largest global consumer of SSBs – a situation that portends grave implications for the country’s public health outcomes hence the need for government authorities and stakeholders to deploy significant action towards influencing public shift away from the consumption of carbonated drinks. To also lessen the health costs of SSB consumption in Nigeria, policymakers must invest in a multi-sectoral approach and homegrown research to generate in-country-specific data which can be utilized to develop effective national policies and action plans.
A second presentation by Dr. Adeniyi Oginni, Executive Secretary, Osun Health Insurance Agency focused on SSB Tax as a Panacea to Nigeria’s Non-Communicable Diseases Epidemic and the Need for Tax Earmarking. According to statistics, NCDs account for 24% of total deaths in Nigeria thereby posing a rising and heavy burden on the economy. To deal with this, a significant increase in the taxation of sugary drinks – which has been linked to the development of NCDs – is required to greatly reduce the growing mortality rate in the country. An effective tax on carbonated drinks will not only improve public outcomes greatly but also generate revenue for public health initiatives. Oginni also called for the protection of children from the consumption of sugary drinks noting that a re-education of parents and teachers to desist from the presentation of sugary drinks as incentives or meals to children was necessary.
Austin Iraoya, a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) discussed the Economic and Public Health Impacts of SSB Tax. There is a global suite of evidence supporting the implementation of SSB taxes as key to curbing the rise in NCDs and also raising the revenue generation of government. Across jurisdictions where taxes on SSB have been implemented, there was a significant shift in public consumption of SSBs to healthier alternatives with less sugar. Iraoya also discussed the challenges impacting the implementation of the tax on SSBs in Nigeria nothing that the manufacturing industry had resorted to misinformation to build public opposition against the benefits of the tax. He expressed the need to encourage manufacturers of SSBs to reformulate their products with less sugar to promote public health.
At the end of the enlightening sessions, the meeting progressed with a plenary session set to inform policy and legislative processes for an effective SSB tax regime and improved public health outlook in Nigeria. The outcome of the plenary, a communique, highlighted amongst other recommendations, the need for immediate action to sustain and progressively raise Nigeria’s SSB tax rate to match global recommendations, for policymakers to invest in local research to draw out contextual realities necessary to enhance actions to reduce sugar intake in the society, for stakeholders to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the SSB tax, and for stakeholders to work with school administrators to implement sugar policies that control how young children consume carbonated drinks in schools.
At the end of the highly interactive forum, participants and stakeholders thanked CAPPA for providing the platform for such a robust exchange of learning, ideas and contributions towards strengthening Nigeria’s SSB Tax regime. They promised to work together with CAPPA to advance the ultimate cause for improved public health.