Praise for Bloomberg's Health Taxes to Save Lives Report

Thursday, April 11, 2019
Kelly Brownell
Health Taxes to Save Lives: Employing Effective Excise Taxes on Tobacco, Alcohol, and Sugary Beverages

In April 2019, the Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health released the “Health Taxes to Save Lives” report, calling on all countries to significantly raise their excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages. An analysis conducted for the Task Force estimated that over 50 million premature deaths could be prevented if countries implemented excise tax increases large enough to raise product prices of tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages by 50 percent over the next 50 years. The Task Force-commissioned analysis found that the impact of these taxes, projected to yield over US$20 trillion in revenue, would be highest in low- and middle-income countries, where consumption and associated healthcare costs and productivity losses are growing.

After reviewing the evidence, the Task Force concluded that few interventions have the power to save as many lives as raising tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverage taxes. And, while secondary to the health gains, the additional revenue that can be obtained from such tax increases is substantial.

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Health Taxes to Save Lives: Employing Effective Excise Taxes on Tobacco, Alcohol, and Sugary Beverages

This thorough and far-reaching report, produced by leading economists and policymakers, shows the powerful impact of using taxes to decrease consumption of substances associated with deadly and costly diseases. Benefits of taxes on tobacco and alcohol have been demonstrated for many years, and more recently, taxes on sugar sweetened beverages have been implemented and evaluated in a number of countries around the world. This report makes note of the arresting logic behind these taxes and shows their impact.

Such taxes can have stunning effects. With this report estimating that increasing such taxes by 50% over the next 50 years would save 50 million lives, there is a strong impetus for government leaders to implement taxes in all three areas and to increase them to optimal levels. There is also considerable opportunity for benefit by using the revenue for health and social programs, such as antismoking campaigns, and subsidizing fruits and vegetables to lower costs. This report is welcome indeed.

-- Kelly Brownell, director, World Food Policy Center, Duke University

What is the Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health?

The Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health – co-chaired by Mike Bloomberg and economist Larry Summers, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and former Director of the National Economic Council – brought together esteemed fiscal policy, development and health leaders from around the globe to address the enormous and growing health and economic burden of noncommunicable diseases – including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – with fiscal policy tools that are currently underutilized by governments and their leaders.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death in the world, killing 40 million people each year and representing 70 percent of all annual deaths. Eighty percent of NCD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, straining health care systems, contributing to poverty and posing a major barrier to development. Tobacco use, obesity and risky alcohol consumption are three leading risk factors for the development of NCDs. Ministers of Finance control a powerful tool to reduce the harmful use of these products: tax policy.

The Task Force examined the evidence on excise tax policy for health, including barriers to implementation, and made recommendations on how countries can best leverage fiscal policies to yield improved health outcomes for their citizens with the added benefit of bringing in additional revenue. Smart fiscal policy can save lives and help economies.