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Friday, June 21, 2024

The Impact of WHO’s Call for Higher Taxes on Alcohol & Sugary Drinks

In a bold move, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged governments globally to elevate taxes on alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). This call to action comes after a comprehensive analysis of taxation rates, revealing a strikingly low average global tax rate on what the WHO categorizes as “unhealthy products.” Notably, some European countries provide full tax exemptions for items such as wine, a trend that the WHO aims to address. In this article, we delve into the WHO’s stance on increased taxes and their potential to mitigate health risks associated with alcohol and sugary drink consumption.

Alarming Statistics on Alcohol and Unhealthy Diets

The WHO paints a grim picture, asserting that a staggering 2.6 million people succumb to alcohol-related causes annually, while an additional 8 million face premature deaths due to unhealthy diets. These alarming figures set the stage for the WHO’s argument in favor of higher taxes, positing them as a powerful tool to reduce the consumption of these detrimental products.

The Role of Taxes in Health Promotion

Higher taxes, according to the WHO, carry a dual benefit of curbing product consumption and encouraging companies to pivot towards healthier alternatives. Rüdiger Krech, the WHO’s health promotion director, emphasizes the positive ripple effect of taxing unhealthy products, foreseeing a society with fewer diseases, decreased debilitation, and increased government revenue to support public services. Notably, the WHO suggests that alcohol taxes, in particular, play a pivotal role in preventing violence and road traffic injuries.

The Global Landscape of SSB Taxes

While 108 out of 194 WHO member states already impose taxes on SSBs, the organization criticizes the average rate of just 6.6% on soda prices. Additionally, an eyebrow-raising revelation is that half of these countries also tax water, a move that contradicts the UN agency’s recommendations. The WHO proposes that a combination of minimum pricing and taxation could be a potent strategy to diminish the consumption of inexpensive alcohol, subsequently reducing hospitalizations, deaths, traffic violations, and crimes associated with alcohol intake.

Examining Alcohol Taxes and Affordability

The WHO’s scrutiny extends to the affordability of alcoholic beverages globally. On average, the tax on the most sold brand of beer is reported to be 17.2%, while for the most sold brand of the most sold type of spirits, it reaches 26.5%. Countering the often-voiced industry concern that alcohol taxes disproportionately impact the poorest communities, the WHO contends that such a perspective neglects the “disproportionate harm per liter” for alcohol consumers in lower socioeconomic groups. A concerning trend highlighted by WHO Assistant Director-General Ailan Li is the consistent increase in the affordability of alcoholic beverages over time, a trend that could be curtailed through well-designed alcohol tax and pricing policies.


In conclusion, the WHO’s clarion call for higher taxes on alcohol and sugary drinks is rooted in a comprehensive analysis of global health risks. The organization contends that this strategy not only serves to reduce consumption but also fosters a healthier society and generates revenue for essential public services. Governments worldwide are now faced with the challenge of reevaluating their taxation policies to align with the WHO’s vision of a healthier and safer global community.

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