Nigeria: Get serious about sugar tax, say activists

By Ben Ezeamalu
Posted on Friday, 30 December 2022 05:42

Man pushes a wheelbarrow loaded with some packages of soft drinks and bottled water at Wuse Market, in Abuja
A man pushes a wheelbarrow loaded with some packages of soft drinks and bottled water at Wuse Market in Abuja, Nigeria, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The Nigerian government should immediately begin the implementation of the WHO-recommended minimum of 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in the country, activists insist, as the industry pushes back.

Addressing a press conference in Lagos, the group said the initial 10 Naira per litre tax introduced by the Nigerian government is “now economically zero” due to heightened inflation.

The federal government in 2021 introduced the N10 tax on carbonated drinks and sugar-sweetened non-alcoholic beverages (SSBs) produced, imported, distributed, and sold in Nigeria.

“The current N10 per litre imposed across all SSBs has easily been absorbed by the producers, a defeat of the initial policy purpose,” says Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of pressure group CAPPA.

“The drinks are always loaded with high calories and add no nutritional value. The ultimate goal is to get the retail price increased so that people will consume less.

“We urge the government to stand firm in defending the health of the country by enacting the proposed N20 per litre law with immediate implementation from 1 January 2023.”

The WHO states that fiscal policies that lead to at least a 20% increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in the consumption of such products.

The number of obese children and adolescents rose from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – a tenfold increase – according to the WHO. The organisation noted that the prevalence of overweight in preschool-aged children is increasing fastest in low- and middle-income countries.

Health burden

Obesity is one of the five leading environmental, behavioural, and metabolic risks that drive injury and disease worldwide, according to a Global Burden of Disease Study in 2017.

Obesity and overweight are linked with a greater risk of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, and cancer. Cardiovascular disease was responsible for 41% of obesity-related deaths and 34% of obesity-related disability-adjusted life-years in obese people worldwide, according to a study published by Plos Global Public Health in June.

In Nigeria, the study said, increased dietary consumption of energy-dense foods, high levels of refined sugar and saturated fats (fast food) and sedentary lifestyles are among the major causes of the increased prevalence of obesity.

Data from the WHO shows that the prevalence of overweight and obesity increased by about 20% between 2002 and 2010 in Nigeria.

“About two-thirds of urban, professional, high socio-economic status Nigerian adults are either overweight or obese,” said a research published by BMC Public Health in 2014.

“The prevalence of overweight and obesity among this population of adult Nigerians is as high as it is in the United Kingdom.”

Increase in non-communicable diseases

Francis Fagbule, a public health expert, said Nigeria has witnessed a tremendous increase in non-communicable diseases over the last three decades.

“And it has also coincided with the westernisation of our diet, with the junks that we eat, with the sugar consumption that we take or processed foods,” Fagbule said at a press conference in Lagos.

“That is one of the reasons why it is important that steps are taken to address these growing public health challenges. And one of the ways to prevent or reduce this burden is through taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Another activist, Opeyemi Ibitoye, accused the soft drinks industry of using media platforms to sway public understanding of the SSB tax.

“We are trying to create awareness for people and we believe the more people know, the more they are able to make healthier choices and choose healthier alternatives as opposed to sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Ibitoye, the Project Officer, SSB Tax Coalition.

Manufacturers disagree

The introduction of the N10 tax on SSBs had been met with discontent by the soft drinks industry who say it had resulted in a decline in their revenue.

The spokesperson of the Manufacturers Association (MAN), Omotayo Alo, told The Africa Report that the body still stands by its position on the N10 tax.

Segun Ajayi-Kadir, the Director-General of MAN, earlier this year described the tax on carbonated and sweetened drinks as “unfortunate”.

He said although Nigeria is the sixth highest consumer of soft drinks, per capita consumption remains low.

“It would appear that the goose that lays the golden eggs is being led to perdition,” Ajayi-Kadir said.

“Seeing that the affected sub-sector has contributed most significantly to the economy and taxes, despite the debilitating impact of Naira devaluation, the inadequacy of forex, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The food and beverage contributed the highest (38%) of the total manufacturing sector to the GDP. It comprises 22.5% of manufacturing jobs and generates more than 1.5 million jobs. So, this excise would certainly cast a sunset on this performance.”

Ajayi-Kadir argued that introducing excise on SSBs would lead to revenue loss by the government, reduced production capacity by manufacturers, and job losses.

“Lastly, let us not forget that many times, non-alcoholic beverages serve as a quick source of carbohydrates and nutrients in the absence of actual food for the average low-income earner.

“For example, a quick meal is bread or gala and a bottle of soft drink. However, an introduction of excise could lead to an increase in price putting this food alternative out of the reach of the poor segments.”

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