Caribbean Countries Urged to Tax Tobacco, Alcohol, Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday May 17, 2017 – Taxes on tobacco, alcoholic and sweetened beverages can help reduce consumption of these products and generate income that can be used to improve the health of the Caribbean population, says the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

And it’s encouraging Caribbean authorities to adopt these tax measures, which can contribute to reducing the burden of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and their devastating social and economic consequences.

Implementing taxes on the consumption of unhealthy products requires decisions by health authorities as well as finance authorities who design tax policies. To that end, PAHO/WHO is bringing together health and finance officials from 17 countries and territories for the Caribbean Subregional Workshop on Alcohol, Tobacco, and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in Barbados May 16-18, to discuss the benefits of adopting such measures.

In the Caribbean countries, non-communicable diseases account for three out of four deaths. Tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are the main causes of these diseases. Compared to other subregions of the Americas, Caribbean populations have the highest probability of dying prematurely, between the ages of 30 to 70 years, from one of these non-communicable diseases.

“Taxes can be a very effective tool for not only reducing deaths in the region because of these diseases, but as a source of funding for public health interventions that are necessary to care for or affect affected people,” said Dr. Jessie Schutt-Aine, Caribbean Subregional Programme Coordinador.

“We all win if these measures are applied and more is invested in healthy interventions.”

Currently, the use of excise taxation of these products in the Caribbean continues to be limited. Of the 14 PAHO member countries in this subregion, 11 have excise taxes on tobacco, 11 on alcohol, and two countries, Barbados and Dominica, recently implemented sugar taxation as a way to deal with the obesity epidemic.

However, of the 11 countries that have taxes on tobacco, none reaches the level recommended by WHO of more than 70 percent of the final sale price.

Taxation cannot be applied alone, and should be part of a comprehensive policy to reduce consumption of these products, which also involves restrictions on marketing, packaging conditions, sharing appropriate nutrition information to inform consumers, and creating healthy environments, among others.

At the meeting organized by PAHO, health and financial authorities are evaluating various experiences in the Caribbean and in other parts of the world, as well as paths each country has taken to apply this type of taxation. Delegates of the countries are sharing their experiences and discussing the possibility of implementing taxation proposals, not only from a health perspective, but also from the economic and financial point of view.

In 2013, the countries of the Americas committed themselves to reduce by 25 percent the premature deaths due to non-communicable diseases by the year 2025. The measures included in the Plan of Action to achieve this objective include implementation of taxes.

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