Determined to facilitate the effective, sustainable, and public health-focused implementation of Nigeria’s SSB tax, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), with support from Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) convened an Inter-Agency Capacity Building meeting on June 5, 2023. At the hybrid gathering, participants from various state agencies, such as the Federal Competition and Consumers Protection Commission (FCCPC), National Orientation Agency (NOA), and Ministry of Education, as well as public health consultants, policy experts, media practitioners, and members of the National SSB Tax Coalition discussed pathways for ensuring the long-term effectiveness of the SSB tax.
The meeting began with welcome remarks from Dr. Deborah Bako Odoh, National Coordinator of the NCD Division, FMOH, and Dr. M O Alex Okoh, Director of Public Health, FMOH. This was followed by goodwill messages from Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA, Omei Bongos, a Health Communications Specialist at Gatefield, and Joy O. Amafah, MPH, the Nigeria Coordinator for Food and Nutrition Programs at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator. Each speaker acknowledged the health risks associated with SSBs and emphasized the vital role of multi-agency coordination, cultivating public awareness, knowledge sharing, and capacity building amongst relevant stakeholders towards a sustainable and pro-public SSB tax structure in Nigeria.
In a presentation that ensued after the opening and goodwill remarks, titled Identifying Risk Factors for Non-Communicable Diseases, Dr. Amadi D.O. (Deputy Director, NCD Division, FMOH), offered a thorough analysis of the diverse risk factors leading to NCDs. These include tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, hereditary factors, environmental pollution, and psychological stress. Notably, she accentuated the global burden of cardiovascular diseases as a leading cause of death. In this context, she emphasized the criticality of a concerted approach towards preventing NCDs as a method to combat poverty in Nigeria. Additionally, she highlighted the potential role of the SSB tax in this strategy.
Dr. Francis Fagbule, a Public Health Consultant led the next discourse which assessed the Impact of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption on Public Health“. To further enlighten participants, he shared a categorization of food items linked to SSBs, whilst reinforcing the association between excessive consumption of SSBs and a host of NCDs. Dr. Fagbule argued the need for a Nigerian-specific data on SSB trends to influence the interventions of policymakers and inform the public effectively. The discourse also brought attention to the widespread availability and affordability of SSBs compared to the scarcity and high cost of healthier alternatives. The presentation culminated in the proposal for an increase in excise taxes on SSBs as a strategic approach to discourage consumption and, in turn, reduce the burden of NCDs on public health.
A third presentation by Dr. Adeniyi Oginni, Executive Secretary of the Osun Health Insurance Agency, offered a compelling interrogation of the correlation between the unyielding prevalence of NCDs and the increasing consumption of SSBs. His presentation tagged SSB Tax as a Potential Remedy to Nigeria’s NCD Epidemic outlined the critical need for robust measures, pinpointing the SSB tax as a practical measure for stemming the rising tide of NCDs. Dr. Oginni recommended a 50% tax increase on SSBs and the allocation of revenue generated towards pro-public-health-related initiatives.
On Deciphering the Economic and Public Health Impacts of the SSB Tax, Austine Iraoya, a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Economies of Africa, analyzed the dual impacts of SSB tax on economic and public health dimensions, weaving the linkages between economic policies and public health outcomes. Iraoya spotlighted the potential of the SSB tax to act as a deterrent, reducing the consumption of harmful beverages by altering their price dynamics. The envisaged outcome would be a tangible shift in market forces, pushing consumers towards healthier alternatives due to the higher cost of sugar-laden drinks, and the curtailment of NCDs.
A final presentation by Dr. Adeolu Adebiyi, a Senior Regional Policy Advisor at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator, focused on Charting the Path for an Effective SSB Tax in Nigeria, laying out critical components for an effective SSB tax regime in Nigeria. Adebiyi’s key recommendations centered on policy strategies aimed at influencing a steady rise in the prices of SSBs (which is passed onto consumers) to moderate consumption, and earmarking funds to bolster the promotion of healthier alternatives. In proposing viable strategies to ensure an effective SSB tax regime, Dr. Adeolu noted that the government can utilize legislation and litigation to prioritize public health. This can be done by enacting laws on SSBs to establish legal grounds for tax, compliance, and penalties for violators of the tax regime.
The highly interactive meeting concluded with a plenary session which provided a unique avenue for participants, including various government agencies present to deliberate on strategies for ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of the SSB tax. Some of the recommendations that flowed from the plenary session include:
- To expand the target of the SSB tax to include a wide range of sugary drinks
- To determine the most effective tax strategy in the context of Nigeria.
- Prioritize strategic advocacy intervention towards policymakers to enlist their support for the SSB tax.
- Identify and include relevant MDAs (such as Finance, SON, FIRS) in future interagency meetings
- Stakeholders working with the media to public sensitization on the negative health impacts of SSBs and the importance of the SSB tax.
- To set up a monitoring team to supervise and evaluate the SSB tax implementation and ensure the revenue collected from the tax is specifically allocated for health initiatives.