Beverage taxation as a strategy against heart disease – Part 2 | The Guardian Nigeria News

Implementing a tax on these sugary drinks has become a key target for political intervention among economics and health advocates. The end point of the strategy for proponents of the SSB tax is the passage of an SSB tax law by the National Assembly through formal lobbying, based on scientific evidence and with an understanding of the political context; drawing on experience from the difficult process of passing the Tobacco Act and eventual approval of a tobacco fund in Nigeria by the Legislature.

For the promotion of public health, the taxation of sugary drinks is recommended internationally as a priority component of a comprehensive approach to the prevention and control of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. As a result, the World Health Organization recommends that governments impose taxes on sugary drinks to increase retail prices by at least 20% to reduce consumption and improve population health. There is international momentum supporting SSB taxes which are now in place in over 40 countries around the world, mainly in high economy countries, and more recently in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Mauritius in 2016 and South Africa in 2018. Taxes have been imposed in countries with some of the highest sugary drink consumption and obesity rates, although some countries with high or rapidly increasing sugary drink consumption rates have yet to introduce taxes on sugary drinks.

With the rapid resurgence of the NCD epidemic in Nigeria, there is a growing need for the government to urgently mount a multi-sector and whole-of-government response to tackle NCDs. The health sector alone cannot bear the burden of treating and preventing NCDs when many of the practices and policies that influence the risks of NCDs and their social determinants reside outside the health sector. A first step is to raise awareness of the links between NCD risks and key sectors outside of health such as agriculture, finance, environment, trade and transport. Research on the health impact of taxing sugary drinks is emerging and evidence points to positive changes in consumption patterns, as recently demonstrated in Mexico, where a 6% drop in the purchase of taxed drinks was observed.

The consequences of food cost and its impact on health are likely to be amplified among the poor in low-income groups, as they spend a greater proportion of their income on food. This therefore makes them more vulnerable to financial and other stresses than those in middle or high income groups, as diet quality varies by socio-economic status, contributing significantly to health inequalities. The available evidence reiterates that in some settings a healthy diet is largely unaffordable for those most at risk of obesity and associated non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers. Additionally, the rising cost of healthy and unhealthy foods is reducing consumption. Thus, the Nigerian government must also focus on measures to reduce the cost of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to reducing the consumption of sugary drinks through increased taxes.

A similar proposition to the focus on sugary drinks is the high prevalence of smoking among the poor in lower income groups, and the positive effects of increasing the tobacco excise tax are immeasurable. Therefore, the implementation of the 10% tax on sugary drinks (SSB) by the Nigerian government should be considered as one of the key strategies to reduce the consumption of SSB. This would be a positive measure to reduce health care costs, improve the health of the population and a source of increased revenue for the government. It is hoped that this increased revenue will be dedicated to funding health programs, especially non-communicable diseases, as is the practice in most developed countries where taxation of sugary drinks has been effectively introduced and implemented.
Dr Akinroye is the Executive Director of the Nigerian Heart Foundation.

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