GLOBAL – The World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, has called for the introduction or increase of existing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) taxes to raise the prices of these unhealthy products, lessen demand, and reduce consumption.
The organization has released its first-ever global tax manual for SSBs, which notes that as of May 2022, at least 85 countries implement some type of SBB taxation.
WHO argues that regular consumption of SSBs, including soft drinks, flavored milk, energy drinks, vitamin waters, fruit juices, and sweetened iced teas, is associated with an increased risk of dental cavities, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and obesity in both children and adults, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
“Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages can be a powerful tool to promote health because they save lives and prevent disease while advancing health equity and mobilizing revenue for countries that could be used to realize universal health coverage,” said Dr. Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.
In the manual, WHO says as the number of countries taxing SSBs increases, the available and emerging empirical evidence indicates that such taxation can be an effective lever for promoting healthier diets and improving population health.
Moreover, taxation is made more effective when implemented as part of a comprehensive policy package to improve food environments.
Complementary policies include restriction of marketing of SSBs; regulation of their nutrition labeling, protecting of children from harmful marketing of food and beverages, ensuring nutritious foods are served in schools and other public spaces, and encouraging reformulation towards lower levels of salt, sugars, and harmful fats.
A recent Gallup Poll also found that a majority of people across the United States, Tanzania, Jordan, India, and Colombia, supported taxes on SSBs, alcohol, and tobacco.
In general, an SSB tax can have three objectives: first, improving health by promoting healthier diets through either dis-incentivizing consumption of SSB products or encouraging the reformulation of products to contain less sugar
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis by Andreyeva et al. found that a 10% tax on SSBs produces a significant 15.9% reduction in taxed beverage purchases.
Beyond the dietary impact of tax policies, another potential benefit of SSB taxes is generating additional government revenue; and third, a mixture of generating revenue and improving health.
According to WHO, a one-time global SSB tax increase that raised prices by 50% could generate additional revenues of US$1.4 trillion over 50 years.
Who wants policymakers in the countries to assess several factors to determine how new tax proposals will be received.
They include the administrative capacity of the finance and revenue authorities, past performance regarding changes to tax legislation, political inclinations, and the general level of government corruption and competence.
The assessment will enable the policy-makers to design taxes that are most likely to be adopted and implemented, WHO notes.