In a resounding plea for public health reform, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged nations to implement increased taxes on alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) to mitigate the staggering toll of 10.6 million lives lost each year.
This call, articulated in a press statement on Tuesday, emphasizes the critical need for proactive measures to address the dire consequences of alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets.
The WHO’s statement revealed that 2.6 million people globally succumb to alcohol-related causes annually, with an additional eight million lives lost due to unhealthy dietary habits.
The proposed remedy lies in imposing taxes on alcohol and SSBs, a strategy believed to significantly reduce mortality rates associated with these factors.
New data released by the WHO exposed a global deficiency in taxes on unhealthy products, indicating that the majority of countries fall short in incentivizing healthier behaviors through taxation.
Notably, the report highlighted an alarming trend where half of the countries taxing SSBs also impose taxes on water—a practice explicitly discouraged by the WHO.
Further analysis disclosed that, on average, the excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages represents a mere 6.6% of the soda price globally.
The situation is not much better for alcoholic beverages, as 148 countries have applied excise taxes at the national level. However, wine enjoys exemption from excise taxes in 22 countries, primarily within the European region.
WHO’s Director for Health Promotion, Dr. Rűdiger Krech, underscored the positive impact of taxing unhealthy products on population health.
Referring to a 2017 study, he emphasized that a 50% increase in alcohol prices through taxes could potentially prevent over 21 million deaths over 50 years, generating nearly $17 trillion in additional revenues—equivalent to the total government revenue of eight of the world’s largest economies in a single year.
“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,” stated Dr. Krech, urging a comprehensive and global effort to address these pressing public health concerns.
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