WHO launches guide on alcohol taxation to combat global health issues

Every year, alcohol consumption results in the deaths of 2.6 million people worldwide, while an unhealthy diet is responsible for over 8 million deaths. By imposing taxes on alcohol and SSBs, these mortality rates could be reduced.

WHO launches guide on alcohol taxation to combat global health issues
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The World Health Organization (WHO) is unveiling new data today which indicates a minimal global application of taxes on unhealthy products, including alcohol and sugary sweetened beverages (SSBs).

This data emphasizes that most countries are not employing taxation as a means to encourage healthier lifestyles. Additionally, WHO is launching a technical guide on the policy and administration of alcohol taxes to assist countries in this area.

Every year, alcohol consumption results in the deaths of 2.6 million people worldwide, while an unhealthy diet is responsible for over 8 million deaths. By imposing taxes on alcohol and SSBs, these mortality rates could be reduced.

However, it's noteworthy that half of the countries that tax SSBs also impose a tax on water, a practice not endorsed by the WHO. Although 108 countries currently tax some form of SSB, the global average for excise taxes—specific taxes assigned to certain consumer goods—amounts to only 6.6% of the price of soda.

Excise taxes are applied to alcoholic beverages in 148 countries, but at least 22 countries, mostly in Europe, exempt wine from these taxes. The average excise tax on the most popular beer brand globally is 17.2%, and 26.5% for the most popular spirits.

A 2017 study found that a 50% increase in alcohol taxes could prevent over 21 million deaths in 50 years and generate about US$17 trillion, equal to a year's revenue of the world's eight largest economies.

“Taxing unhealthy products creates healthier populations. It has a positive ripple effect across society - less disease and debilitation and revenue for governments to provide public services. In the case of alcohol, taxes also help prevent violence and road traffic injuries,” said Dr Rűdiger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at the World Health Organization.

recent Gallup Poll, in partnership with the WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies, revealed widespread support among respondents from various countries for higher taxes on unhealthy items like alcohol and SSBs.

The WHO advises implementing excise taxes on all SSBs and alcoholic drinks.

Today's launch of the alcohol tax manual complements a series of existing tax guides, including those for tobacco and sugar-sweetened beverages.

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