In an effort to tackle the rising burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and promote public health, the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD Ghana) and the Advocating for Health (A4H) Coalition have jointly organized a national stakeholder meeting on health taxes.
The meeting, held on June 15 at the Sun Lodge Hotel in Accra was targeted at bringing together key stakeholders from various sectors to discuss the implementation (including evaluation) of the Excise Duty Amendment Act, 2023 and to explore strategies for successful multi-stakeholder collaboration.
This is because the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy diets have been identified as major contributors to NCDs, which claim the lives of over 41 million people globally each year.
In Ghana alone, about one out of every three deaths are attributed to NCDs. The prevalence of ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages has surged due to urbanization and the presence of Western-style fast food companies across the country.
The recently passed Excise Duty Amendment Act, 2023 has emerged as one of many interventions to help prevent NCDs, health advocates such as the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD Ghana) and the Advocating for Health Coalition argue.
The stakeholder meeting is part of efforts to facilitate a better understanding of health taxes among Ghanaians through media engagement. It also provided a platform for discussing the implementation plan for the Excise Duty Amendment Act in collaboration with the Ghana Revenue Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance, Ghana Health Service, Food and Drugs Authority, World Health Organization, Ghana Standards Authority, civil society organizations, academia, and media representatives.
Welcoming the participants to the stakeholders the Principal Investigator of the Advocating for Health Project, and the Healthier Diets for Healthy Lives (HD4HL) Project, Prof Amos Laar, said though the causes of NCDs are complex and with multiple interacting determinants, dietary factors such as excessive consumption of calorie-dense nutrient-poor foods, including sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are key contributors to the menace.
“SSBs are available, are accessible, affordable, and are heavily marketed and celebrity-endorsed and that is not good for public health. An examination of Ghana’s soft drink (SSBs) market using data from 2001 to 2021 raises serious public health concerns. In 2021 alone, the Ghanaian soft drink market value was estimated to be about 1.9 billion liters, with a per capita consumption estimated to be 51.2 liters (50,000ml). One can of a regular soft drink is about 330ml” Prof. Laar noted.
Labram Musah, the Executive Director of VALD Ghana, issued a resounding call for the benchmarking of taxes on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) and alcohol to the prevailing headline inflation rate in the country
For her part, the Head of Tobacco and Substances of Abuse Department of the Foods and Drugs Authority, Dr. Olivia A. Boateng said “Raising taxes on tobacco products will lead to increases in their price making tobacco less affordable to people who use it and preventing youth initiation. Youth and low-income groups are more reactive to increased prices of tobacco, they enjoy the economic and health benefits of quitting and not commencing. Increased taxes also have a positive impact on non-smokers by reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke. It also improves the health of people and communities.”
She added that the FDA is committed to fully supporting the implementation of the Excise Duty Amendment Act, 2023 (Act 1093) to reduce tobacco use and save lives in Ghana.
The head of the Excise Taskforce of the Ghana Revenue Authority, Mr. Nelson Bright Atsu, contributing to the discussion said the Excise Duty Amendment Act has provided for the inclusion of non-non-alcoholic beverages and electronic cigarettes. He added that the GRA will collaborate with institutions such as the Ghana Armed Forces, the Ghana Police Service, National Security, Foods and Drugs Authority as well as selected civil society organisations in the implementation of the new tax.
Dr. Alex Kombat, an Assistant Commissioner at the GRA Headquarters hinted the GRA is open to exploring content-based SSB tax in the near future. Mr. Akoto Apau, Head of Excise Department of the GRA in his closing remarks reiterated that promoting and protecting public health is a key rationale for the tax, although the rhetoric has centered on the revenue generation potential.
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