Sugar serves the body well. Too much of it though and it’s like walking eyes open into an anteroom labelled, “future medical complications”. In spite of this, sugar in its various guises enjoys good PR. Companies invest millions of naira pushing their sugary products on national television and radio. On social media, big Nigerian celebrities wear their most handsome smile as they hold a bottle of your favourite brand of soda. In many ways your addiction is getting endorsed. What no one tells you is that you should “drink responsibly”. Why should they? You may turn up with type 2 diabetes tomorrow, but the soda company turns a profit today.
Yet you should “drink responsibly”. Not just soda, but also malt drinks, packet juices, nectars, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks and flavoured milk. These are collectively called sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). They contain natural or artificial sweeteners and various forms of sugar: brown sugar, fructose, glucose, honey and maltose. Though rich in sugar, they are thin in nutritional value.
But knowing something is bad for you doesn’t necessarily make it easy to denounce it. Cigarette addicts would tell you as much. Sometimes, the only way to cure addiction is to make it expensive. This is where the SSB tax comes in. The reasoning behind it is this: add a few extra nairas to the price of Coca-Cola, and hopefully it would make the guy who usually drinks 10 bottles a week cut it down to 3 or 2. Notorious B.I.G. once said, more money, more problems. SSB tax says, more money, less sugar.
There’s precedent for this. When the SSB tax was introduced in South Africa, it reduced consumption by up to 500ml per day among South Africans who drank more than two bottles daily. This is according to a 2020 study published in the Lancet Planetary Health.
Thankfully the SSB tax has been implemented by the Nigerian federal government since June 1 this year. Although, the federal government had since approved in December last year that a N10-per-litre tax should be imposed on SSBs. We have the National Action on Sugar Reduction (NASR) coalition to thank for applying pressure on the government regarding the SSB levy. Comprising this coalition are the Diabetes Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Health Watch, Nigeria Cancer Society, and Nutrition Society of Nigeria, among others.
Benefits of the SSB tax
It’s been hinted earlier that wantonly consuming SSBs could cause type 2 diabetes. But it’s not the only medical problem SSBs could cause. There’s obesity, tooth decay, hypertension, stroke, heart diseases, and certain cancers. Non-communicable diseases as such account for 1 in 3 deaths in Nigeria. In 2021, the International Diabetic Federation pegged Nigeria’s diabetes-related treatment at 745 billion naira.
By making addiction to SSB more expensive, the SSB tax hopes to impose on Nigerians a healthier diet, with an eye towards these two things: reducing the rate of SSB-related diseases and cutting down the economic cost of treating them.
That the Nigerian health sector isn’t sufficiently funded is by now clichéd to say out loud. The tax imposed on SSBs can help offset some of the financial deficit belabouring that crucial sector. There is ongoing advocacy by the previously mentioned pro-SSB tax coalition to ensure that the revenue generated from the SSB levy would be used to treat Nigerians with SSB-related health problems or go into funding Nigeria’s dwindling healthcare system. More money, more treatment.
Another benefit to the tax is that it could help create awareness among ordinary Nigerians on why they should temper their SSB consumption. It’s a long shot, but the rationale goes thus: you go to buy a bottle of drink at your local retail store (this is your sixth this week), only to find out it’s now more expensive than when you bought it yesterday. You buy it begrudgingly, go home, and run a search online to find out why mineral drinks are now more expensive. The hope is that as your research takes you hither and thither, you chance on this article, and several others, that tell you why excess sugar consumption is bad for you and why the SSB tax is necessary.