Countries must increase their taxes on alcohol and sugar-sweetened drinks, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, saying too few states were using taxes to incentivize healthier behavior.
After studying tax rates, the WHO said the average global tax rate on such “unhealthy products” was low and increasing taxes could lead to a healthier population.
“The WHO recommends that the excise tax should be imposed on all sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and alcoholic beverages,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
Excise taxes target specific goods and services.
According to the WHO, 2.6 million people die every year as a result of alcohol consumption, while more than eight million die from an unhealthy diet.
“Imposing a tax on alcohol and SSBs will reduce these deaths,” it said.
This would not only help reduce the use of these products, but also incentivize companies to produce healthier products, she added.
The WHO said that although 108 countries tax SSB drinks, global excise taxes on average only account for 6.6 percent of the price of soda.
The WHO found that half of these countries also tax water – something the UN agency does not recommend.
“Taxing unhealthy products leads to a healthier population. It has a positive impact on society as a whole – reduced disease and disability and revenue for governments to provide public services,” said Rüdiger Krech, WHO Director of Health Promotion.
“Taxes also help prevent violence and traffic accidents when it comes to alcohol.”
The Geneva-based WHO published a handbook on alcohol tax policy and administration for its 194 member states on Tuesday.
It said minimum pricing combined with taxes could curb consumption of cheap alcohol and reduce alcohol-related hospitalizations, deaths, traffic violations and crime.
“Extensive research has shown that people who regularly drink heavily tend to drink the cheapest alcoholic beverages available,” it said.
Some 148 countries impose national excise taxes on alcoholic beverages.
“However, wine is exempt from excise duty in at least 22 countries, most of them in Europe,” the WHO said.
Globally, the excise tax in the price of the top-selling beer brand averages 17.2 percent, while for the top-selling brand of the top-selling spirit, it is 26.5 percent, the organization said.
“A pressing concern is that alcoholic beverages have become increasingly affordable over time,” said WHO Deputy Director-General Ailan Li.
“But increasing affordability can be curbed through well-thought-out alcohol tax and pricing policies.”
The handbook says the drinks industry often argues that alcohol taxes hit the poorest hardest – but this ignores the “disproportionate harm per liter to alcohol consumers in lower socio-economic groups”.
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