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Tax Increases on Unhealthy Products Alleviate Growing Global Burden of Noncommunicable Disease

Feb. 6, 2024 (New York)—Alcohol, tobacco and ultra-processed foods are a major risk factor for today’s leading killers—cancer, lung and heart disease and diabetes—which are responsible for more than 70% of deaths worldwide. An emerging challenge for governments and civil society organizations is how to respond coherently to the array of commodities that negatively influence people’s health. Proven public health interventions can help. Chief among these interventions are health taxes that raise the price of unhealthy products, according to a new editorial published in BMJ Global Health.

“Private sector business actions and influence greatly affect people’s health,” said Jacqui Drope, Director, RESET Alcohol, Vital Strategies. “But governments are not powerless against the influence of the tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed food industries. In fact, when governments implement health taxes, they wield the strongest tool available to reduce the harms of these unhealthy products, including death and illness from noncommunicable diseases.”

Health taxes, particularly excise taxes, are proven to be successful in reducing the consumption of unhealthy products. These taxes raise the price of unhealthy products and make them less affordable, which prevents people from starting to use these products and helps others to reduce their consumption or quit. For example, New York state has the highest cigarette taxes in the world and since 2000 the state has seen youth smoking rates plummet by more than 90%.

The authors note that while the ideal health tax policy would reflect the differing burdens of each unhealthy product in each country’s context, there are various factors impeding implementation of such a tax policy. Some countries are constrained by limited or incomplete data to make a proper assessment of a product’s burden, particularly alcohol. In addition, technical knowledge, experience and funding vary greatly across tobacco, alcohol and food policy advocacy efforts.

However, the authors underscore that interest and expertise are growing to address multiple unhealthy commodities with effective tax policy, especially as countries work to recover from COVID-19 and its damaging effect on financial and health systems.

“The positive impacts of health taxes go beyond individual well-being,” said Jeffrey Drope, Research Professor, Johns Hopkins University. “Taxation of unhealthy products can also alleviate the growing global burden of noncommunicable diseases on families and communities while increasing government revenue and taking pressure off already overburdened health systems.”

Now, building on the successes and lessons of tobacco control, the RESET Alcohol initiative is supporting governments to increase alcohol taxation to levels that will further reduce noncommunicable diseases and other health and social harms.

Read the full BMJ editorial here:

About RESET Alcohol

The RESET Alcohol initiative brings together national governments, civil society, research organizations and global leaders to advance three policies—alcohol taxation, marketing and availability—from the World Health Organization’s SAFER package for reducing the health, social and economic harms of alcohol. It is led by Vital Strategies in collaboration with Movendi International, the Tobacconomics team at Johns Hopkins University, Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), NCD Alliance, and World Health Organization.

To learn more visit:

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies believes every person should be protected by an equitable and effective public health system. We work with governments, communities and organizations around the world to reimagine public health so that health is supported in all the places we live, work and play. The result is millions of people living longer, healthier lives.

Visit: or follow @VitalStrat on Twitter

About Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University’s (USA) Bloomberg School of Public Health (Tobacconomics team) conducts economic research to inform and shape fiscal policies for health and supports country-based researchers to develop the local evidence to inform government tax policymaking. To learn more visit

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