The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging Caribbean countries to implement taxes on alcohol, tobacco and sugar sweetened beverages saying that the taxes can help reduce consumption of these products and generate income that can be used to improve the health of the Caribbean population.
On Tuesday last, PAHO opened the three day Caribbean sub regional workshop on alcohol, tobacco and sugar sweetened beverages, bringing together health and finance officials from seventeen countries.
According to the Washington based PAHO, the adoption of these tax measures can contribute to reducing the burden of hypertension, diabetes and cancer and reduce the devastating social and economic consequences.
“Implementing taxes on the consumption of unhealthy products requires decisions by health authorities who design tax policies,” PAHO said adding that in the Caribbean, non-communicable diseases NCD account for three out of four deaths.
Tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are the main causes of these diseases, when compared to other sub regions of the Americas, PAHO said.
Caribbean populations have the highest probability of dying prematurely, between the ages of 30 to 70 years, from one of these NCD.
“Taxes can be a very effective tool for not only reducing deaths in the region, but a source of funding for public health interventions that are necessary to care for affected people,” said Dr Jessie Schutt Aine, PAHO’s sub regional program coordinator.
“We all win if these measures are applied and more is invested in healthy interventions.”
Currently PAHO said the use of excise taxation of these products on the Caribbean continue to be limited. Of the 14 PAHO member countries in this Region, PAHO said 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 all the 11 countries that have taxes on tobacco, none reaches the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) of more than ten percent of the final sale price.
“Taxation cannot be applied alone and should be part of 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”, PAHO said.
Delegates of the countries are sharing their experiences and are discussing the possibility of implementing taxation proposals, not only from a health perspective but also from the economic and financial point of view.
According to PAHO, in 2013 the countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean, committed themselves to reduce, by a 25 percent, the premature deaths due to NCD’s by the year 2025.
According to PAHO the measures in the action plan does not include the implementation of taxes.