Monday July 22, 2024

Concern raised over beverage industry’s efforts to derail public health agenda

By Our Correspondent
June 06, 2023

Islamabad:Speaking to a joint press conference, health professionals and civil society representatives raised their concern on the efforts of beverage industry to derail the public health agenda of reducing consumption of sugary drinks through imposing higher federal excise duty in the finance bill 2023-24. This was said during the press conference jointly organized by Pakistan National Heart Association, Diabetic Association of Pakistan, Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Society, Family Physicians Association, Pakistan Kidney Patient Welfare Association and Civil Society Alliance.

“Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is an effective, evidence-based public health response against rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. To date, at least 105 countries, cities, and regions have instituted excises taxes on SSB” said by Sana Ullah Ghumman General Secretary PANAH. “We have serious concerns that beverage industry is trying to offset government’s efforts to reducing obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver and kidney diseases, and trying to escape taxes in the finance bill 2023-24” he added.

Munawar Hussain, a Public Health Advocate and consultant at Global Health Advocacy Incubator said “there is a growing evidence from countries which shows that increasing tax on sugary drinks, contrary to industry arguments, do not lower wages, reduce employment, or have any negative impact on the economy”. He added “the research shows that SSB taxes curb the consumption of sugary drinks and can lead people to choose healthier alternatives like water and unsweetened milk.”

The public health advocates and civil society representatives are urging government to take measures to reduce consumption of all type of sweet drinks including those with the artificial sweeteners. The guidelines by World Health Organisation clearly indicate that non caloric sweeteners are equally harmful to health and increasing risk for NCDs. Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination has already submitted a proposal to Federal Board of Revenue to increase federal excise duty on all sugary drinks to 50 percent including sodas, energy drinks, juices, fruit juices, squashes, syrups, flavored milk and non-caloric sweeteners.

“The consumption of sweet drinks is among the major contributor to the rising rates of obesity and diet related NCDs in Pakistan. Liquid forms of sugars found in sugar-sweetened beverages are particularly harmful to the body. Liquid sugars are less satisfying to the body and have no added nutritional value. When we consume these beverages, we may not feel full, and do not subsequently reduce the amount of food we eat, so total calorie intake increases,” said Fayza Khan, President Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetics Society. “Research shows that sugary drinks are the largest contributors of sugar to the diet,” she added.

“Pakistan has turned to the top country globally with 31 percent adults living with diabetes. The annual cost of diabetes management has increased to $2.6 billion in Pakistan. This storm need to be stopped through evidence based measures like taxing sugary drinks” said Dr. Abdul Basit, General Secretary Diabetic Association of Pakistan. “If we have not been able to prevent diabetes, it shall derail the entire development agenda” he shared his fear.

Sq. Leader (r) Ghulam Abbas, General Secretary to Pakistan Kidney Patient Welfare Association also spoke during the press conference. “Nearly half of the diabetic patients develop complications to their kidney and we have to put many of those on dialysis. The consumption of sugary drinks is posing serious threat to public health and economy of the country” he said. “Government should take all measures to reduce its consumption and reject any pressure by the beverage industry driven by their corporate interest” he added.

The public health advocates and civil society representatives also shared the results of the opinion poll conducted by Pakistan Health Research Council in 2021 to gauge public support for increasing tax on sugary drinks. As per national opinion poll conducted in 2021, the 78 per cent of adults Pakistanis supported government to increase taxes on sugary drinks to reduce its consumption. In addition, 8 out of every 10 adults’ demands government to take measures to reducing consumption of sugary drinks.