'Sin Taxes' can help to curb chronic disease, study finds

05 April 2018 08:02

NCDs are described as a "major cause and consequence" of poverty

NCDs are described as a "major cause and consequence" of poverty

Taxes on soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco - nicknamed "sin taxes" - could be a powerful step towards combating rising rates of chronic diseases worldwide, research has suggested.

A global study found that these taxes are more likely to change the lifestyle behaviour of vulnerable, poorer consumers.

NCDs "major cause and consequence" of poverty

Most of the tax revenues would come from higher income households, however.

It is poorer sections of society which are disproportionately affected by non-communicable diseases (NCDs) linked to lifestyle, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, the authors stated.

NCDs were described as a "major cause and consequence" of poverty.

The findings were reported shortly before the somewhat controversial sugar tax on soft drinks comes into force in the UK this week.

The tax is designed to hit manufacturers rather than consumers, but is likely to lead to price rises. Any drink containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml will incur a levy of 18p per litre. The tax goes up to 24p per litre if the sugar content is over 8g per 100ml.

Big investments

The group of experts gathered data from 13 countries around the world, all with large, poor populations.

One example in Mexico showed an average 4.2 litre reduction in consumption per person in 2014 after the soft drink tax was introduced.

Soft drink purchases decreased by 17% in lower income groups, but hardly changed among those earning more.

Other research found that in the UK, which was not among the countries assessed, the response to the possible introduction of a minimum price for alcohol was likely to be 7.6 times larger in poorer households than in the richest.

Dr Rachel Nugent, from the non-profit institute RTI International in Seattle, said: "Non-communicable diseases are a major cause and consequence of poverty worldwide.

"Responding to this challenge means big investments to improve health care systems worldwide, but there are immediate and effective tools at our disposal.

"Taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains, and the evidence shows these can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society."

However, Christopher Snowdon, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said of the findings:

"The claim that poor people disproportionately benefit from these taxes is absurd.

"Sugar taxes have not reduced obesity rates anywhere in the world and smoking is much more prevalent among the poor than among the rich, despite decades of high taxes on tobacco.

"There is precious little evidence that poor people benefit from being taxed. On the contrary, sin taxes drive them further into poverty."

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