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Implement WHO’s 20% Tax on Sweetened Products, Coalition Tells FG

Implement WHO’s 20% Tax on Sweetened Products, Coalition Tells FG

Oghenevwede Ohwovoriole in Abuja

A coalition of non-governmental organisations against sweetened products, National Action on Sugar Reduction (NASR) yesterday tasked the federal government to implement 20 percent tax burden on sweetened sugar beverages and products recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017.

The coalition, comprising Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS), Project Pink Blue (PPB), noted that the tax could discourage consumption because they discourage purchase of the sweetened product.

It called for the implementation at a news conference in Abuja yesterday to herald the global week of action against non-communicable diseases under a theme, “Invest in NCDs today, save lives and money tomorrow.”

The conference was addressed by NASR’s Health Communication Specialist, Omei Bonos-Ikwne; Vice President, Nigerian Cancer Society, Mr. Elijah Elijah and Programme Coordinator, Project Pink Blue, Mrs. Gloria Okwu, among others.

NASR is a coalition of non-governmental organisations advocating for policy measures to tackle the health risks of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, commonly known as soft drinks.

Nigeria ranks the 4th highest soft drink consuming country globally (behind the United States, China and Mexico), with over 38 million litres of soft drinks sold yearly. The excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with obesity and non-communicable diseases like type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dental caries, liver disease and some cancers.

Given the danger of sweetened sugar beverages, the WHO advised its member states to help fight non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and others imposition of 20 percent tax on companies producing such products.

At the conference yesterday, Bonos-Ikwne urge the FG to as a matter of urgency raise the tax on sweetened products to not less than 20 percent to discourage their abuse and consumption.

He explained that national development could not take place without public health concerns being factored into any short or medium term national strategic plan.

He observed that the WHO concluded that one of the most effective tools for reducing obesity rates and other non-communicable diseases “is the implementation of taxes to increase the prices of sweetened products by at least 20 percent.”

“The tax can discourage consumption because they discourage purchase of sweetened products. Far from being punitive, the tax will promote public health, generate new revenue to offset the huge cost of managing non-communicable diseases and raise public awareness.

“The tax will raise crucial questions on how much sugar does a sugar sweetened beverage contain? It is also known to reformulate products such that companies can respond by reducing their sugar content.”

Also speaking at the conference, Okwu said non-communicable diseases had become a global emergency, noting that more awareness and funds were needed.

She observed that the 2022 Global Week for Action on NCDs sought to ensure the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases to get the attention and action they deserve, everywhere, for everyone.

She added that financing for non-communicable diseases “has stagnated at a pitiful 1-2 percent of development assistance for health for two decades, causing many millions of deaths and pushing millions more into extreme poverty due to health care costs and disability.

“Therefore, investment is needed to turn the tide on NCDs. The Global Week of Action is a call to the government, media, civil societies. donors, international agencies, private sectors and all other stakeholders to get involved by identifying remarkable and sustainable solutions to mobilise effective investments in health.”

She also blamed non-communicable diseases for most early deaths in low income countries, revealing that non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes “are the leading cause of death worldwide.

“Non-communicable diseases kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to over 7 out of 10 deaths worldwide. Changing social, economic, and structural factors such as more people moving to cities and the spread of unhealthy lifestyles have fuelled the non-communicable diseases that kills 15 million people prematurely-before the age of 70-each year and 85 percent of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria.”

In his address, Elijah reeled out the recommendations of the NASR policy, thereby calling on the federal government “to foster a sustainable SSBs tax and save the Nigeria health sector.

“Our recommendations are as follows: Tax from the sweetened products should be earmarked for the health sector and in specific for the prevention of NCDs, treatment and support including.

“An excise tax can be applied as percentage of the total value of the product or the amount of sugar in it. We recommended that of 20 percent be applied to sweetened products in Nigeria.”

He therefore called the federal government “to create a fund for the prevention of non-communicable diseases. Using revenue from the proposed SSB tax, a fund non-communicable diseases can be created for the prevention and control of mandate clear front of package label policies.”

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