The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the National Sugar-Sweetened Tax Coalition are warning Nigerians that the Sugar Sweetened Beverages industry is actively targeting young people fuelling increased public health concerns. Seun Akioye reports
Not many Nigerians are aware of the dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages. And there are many in the Nigerian market targeting young school children who consume these products daily in large quantities.
The danger is exactly what Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the coalition on Sugar-sweetened Tax Coalition want Nigerians to know.
At a press conference held in Abuja but which was streamed live to journalists across the country, Oluwafemi said the major danger is that the Sugar-Sweetened Industry (SSB) is increasingly targeting uninformed Nigerians thereby undermining Nigeria’s already flailed public health system.
What Nigerians need now, Oluwafemi said, is not the lure of glittering advertisements but to raise the tax on SSB products up to 20 percept, thereby lowering demand.
“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,” Oluwafemi said.
The Coalition said it is back up by research, that sugar-sweetened products are responsible for the increasing case of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in Nigeria. Worse are the future projections for the young people who are currently being hooked on the ‘dangerous beverages’.
And government they said, can check this quickly by raising the Pro-Health Policy (SSB Tax) rate and passing it into law through an Act of the National Assembly.
Oluwafemi believes that “predatory marketing” exploits the vulnerability of young minds, shaping preferences that echo for years saying “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.”
It gets even worse as the season of celebration craws up on Nigerians. “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,” Oluwafemi said.
A case for tax increase
A public health consultant, Dr. Francis Fagbule said the SSB industry has become the Commercial Determinants of Health which highlights 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 engaged in lobbying activities to shape policies in their favour, resisting or diluting regulations such as SSB taxes or labeling 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,” Fagbule added.
Oluwafemi 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 percent 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 10percent 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,” he said.
Fagbule agreed with Oluwafemi, a 20 percent in retail prices would align with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation while the country can go on to pass the SSB Tax as a legislative act to ensure stability and long-term effectiveness, then allocate tax revenue to healthcare, education, social services, research, and monitoring, with a focus on improving public health and addressing economic burdens while launching public awareness campaigns to educate the population about the health risks of SSB consumption and the benefits of the SSB Tax.
Industry Corporate Social Responsibility
The SSB industry has not been silent. It has continued to churn out various corporate social responsibility projects across Nigeria from sponsoring awards –including media- to doing shoreline clean-ups.
“It’s all a green wash,” Oluwafemi countered. “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,” he said.
But one thing is sure, as the celebration continues in Nigeria, many would continue to consume the drinks in excess completely oblivious to the health implications. And when this happens, it would be as Oluwafemi has predicted