The World Health Organization (WHO) presented data indicating a low prevalence of global taxes imposed on unhealthy products like alcohol and sugary sweetened beverages (SSBs) in a recent release. The report underscores that the majority of countries are not utilizing taxes as a means to encourage healthier behaviors, as stated in a WHO news release on Tuesday.
To aid countries in this endeavor, WHO has introduced a technical manual on alcohol tax policy and administration, complementing existing tax manuals on tobacco and SSBs. Global statistics reveal that 2.6 million people succumb to alcohol-related causes annually, with over eight million attributed to an unhealthy diet. The UN health agency suggests that implementing taxes on alcohol and SSBs can reduce these fatalities.
WHO data indicates that, on average globally, excise tax, designated for specific consumer products, represents merely 6.6% of the price of soda, even though 108 countries impose taxes on some form of sugar-sweetened beverage. Additionally, 148 countries have applied excise taxes to alcoholic beverages at the national level. However, wine remains exempt from excise taxes in at least 22 countries, primarily in the European Region.
On a global scale, the excise tax share in the price of the most sold brand of beer averages 17.2%, while for the most sold brand of the most popular spirit type, it is 26.5%. A 2017 study indicates that a 50% increase in alcohol prices through taxes could prevent over 21 million deaths over 50 years and generate nearly $17 trillion in additional revenues, equivalent to the total government revenue of eight of the world’s largest economies in one year.
Dr. Rűdiger Krech, the director of health promotion at WHO, emphasizes, “Taxing unhealthy products creates healthier populations,” citing positive ripple effects such as reduced disease rates and increased government revenue for public services. Countries like Lithuania, which raised alcohol taxes in 2017 to curb consumption, experienced a decline in alcohol-related deaths from 23.4 per 100,000 people in 2016 to 18.1 per 100,000 people in 2018.
Research indicates that taxing alcohol and SSBs not only reduces their consumption but also encourages companies to develop healthier alternatives. Moreover, such taxes play a crucial role in preventing injuries and non-communicable diseases such as cancers, diabetes, and heart diseases.
A recent Gallup Poll, conducted in collaboration with WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies, revealed that a majority of surveyed individuals across various countries support increased taxes on unhealthy products like alcohol and SBBs. WHO recommends the application of excise tax to all SSBs and alcoholic beverages.