The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the National Sugar-sweetened Beverage Tax Coalition have raised the alarm over rising cases of diabetes, heart diseases and other conditions fueled by Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB).
Both organisations, referencing research, accused the industry of promoting deliberately misleading narratives, clouding the public’s understanding of the true health implications associated with habitual consumption of their products.
They fingered SSBs including soda and fruit drinks as playing a role in the rising cases of obesity, diabetes and heart diseases and urged the government to check the problem by, among others, raising the Pro-health Policy (SSB tax) rate and passing it into law.
The occasion was a press briefing by CAPPA and the Coalition on Pro-health Policy (Sugar-sweetened Beverages Tax), themed “SSB tax: Industry undermining public health for profits”.
CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi emphasised the importance of reinforcing the dangers of SSB consumption, the need for an immediate review of the tax, and a call for government’s stringent action on industry activities, as the festive period draws closer.
“For years, the sugar-sweetened beverages industry has painted a picture of sugary drinks as innocent pleasures. But behind the vibrant colours and catchy jingles lies a grim reality. SSBs are laden with empty calories, fuelling a public health crisis of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The statistics are sobering: one in ten Nigerians now live with diabetes, placing a crippling burden on individuals and Nigeria’s healthcare system,” Olufemi said.
He noted that the manufacturing industry “actively targets children and youths, bombarding them with sugary advertising and social activities, normalizing unhealthy habits at a crucial stage in their development.”
In his view, this “predatory marketing” exploits the vulnerability of young minds, shaping preferences that echo for years. He added: “The consequences are far-reaching as diabetes and its complications steal years of healthy life, erode productivity, and strain resources, leaving families shattered and futures uncertain.”
CAPPA’s ED argued further that amidst the festive cheer, the SSB industry drowns out public health concerns “with a deafening roar of misinformation. They blame personal responsibility. They ignore their aggressive marketing tactics that target the most vulnerable: children and low-income communities. While families come together for festive gatherings, the SSB industry feasts on obscene profits, built on the backs of collective health. These producers annually especially during festive seasons incorporate corporate activities like festivals, awards and sponsoring popular events, as a way of promoting their unhealthy products.”
He described as “intense greenwashing” the industry’s cleaning up of shorelines, provision of motorised boreholes, different paid awards, and posturing as helpers of communities.
“They are cleaning the shoreline of plastic wastes they created, providing water for communities they have used up and contaminated their water. All these are done to distract the people from the health dangers they are inflicting on the population.”
Olufemi urged Nigerians to “choose public health over corporate greed and advocate for an increase in the current N10/ litre tax on these unhealthy drinks which began implementation in June 2022, demonstrably proven to reduce consumption by up to 20% in over 100 countries that have already implemented the tax.
“SSB tax is a public health intervention, a nudge towards healthier choices, a disincentive to the excessive consumption of sugar. Studies have shown that a 10% SSB tax can lead to a significant decrease in consumption, particularly among low-income communities disproportionately affected by sugary drinks. The economic burden of treating chronic diseases far outweighs the tax revenue. “
In his presentation at the event titled “Unmasking the Truth: Navigating the Health Realities of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in Nigeria”, Public Health Consultant Dr. Francis Fagbule lamented that the industry has now become “Commercial determinants of health” in the country.
He said Commercial determinants of health highlight the “influence that profit-oriented entities, particularly corporations and industries, have on shaping health-related behaviours and outcomes.”
Fagbule identified the industry’s commercial determinants tactics that play a significant role in influencing patterns of consumption including heavy advertising and marketing, industry lobbying and influence and misinformation campaigns.
“SSB industries often engage in lobbying activities to shape policies in their favour, resisting or diluting regulations such as SSB taxes or labelling requirements. The industry also engages in campaigns that downplay or dismiss the health risks associated with SSB consumption, creating confusion among the public. This misinformation challenges individuals’ ability to make informed and healthy choices,” he added.
Dr. Fagbule further noted that the industry, often driven by commercial interests, propagates narratives and arguments that downplay the risks associated with SSBs and undermine the need for a higher and sustained SSB Tax as a legislative act in Nigeria.
These, he said, include denying the health implications of their products and blaming individual choice.
He urged policymakers to increase the SSB Tax Rate to achieve at least a 20% increase in retail prices, aligning with WHO recommendations, pass the SSB Tax as a legislative act to ensure stability and long-term effectiveness, allocate Tax revenue to healthcare, education, social services, research, and monitoring, with a focus on improving public health and addressing economic burdens and launch public awareness campaigns to educate the population about the health risks of SSB consumption and the benefits of the SSB Tax.