WHO Urges Higher Taxes on Alcohol and Sugary Drinks for Healthier Populations

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling on countries to raise taxes on alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages to incentivize healthier behaviours, stating that the global average tax rate on these “unhealthy products” is too low. With 2.6 million annual deaths attributed to alcohol consumption and over eight million to unhealthy diets, the WHO emphasises that implementing taxes on these items could lead to healthier populations.

The WHO recommends the application of excise taxes on all sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and alcoholic beverages, asserting that such measures not only reduce deaths but also encourage companies to produce healthier alternatives. While 108 countries currently impose some taxation on SSBs, the global average for excise taxes represents just 6.6 percent of a soda’s price.

In addition to curbing the use of unhealthy products, taxes on these items create positive ripple effects, promoting less disease, improved health, and generating revenue for governments to provide public services, according to Rudiger Krech, the WHO’s health promotion director. Taxation on alcohol, in particular, is noted for its role in preventing violence and road traffic injuries.

The WHO released a manual on alcohol tax policy and administration for its 194 member states, highlighting the potential impact of minimum pricing combined with taxation on reducing consumption of cheap alcohol and mitigating related issues such as hospitalisations, deaths, traffic violations, and crimes.

While 148 countries apply national excise taxes on alcoholic drinks, the WHO notes exemptions for wine in at least 22 countries, primarily in Europe. Globally, the average excise tax on the most sold brand of beer is 17.2 percent, and for the most sold type of spirits, it is 26.5 percent. The WHO emphasises that addressing the affordability of alcoholic beverages through well-designed tax and pricing policies is crucial, countering arguments that alcohol taxes disproportionately affect the poorest by highlighting the disproportionate harm per litre for consumers in lower socioeconomic groups.

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