Authorities in St Lucia are being encouraged to impose higher taxes on tobacco, alcoholic and sweetened beverages to help reduce the burden of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer.
The advice is coming from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
PAHO believes that higher taxes can help reduce consumption of these unhealthy products and generate income that can be used to improve the health of the population.
The idea is being proposed to health and finance officials from throughout the Caribbean who are attending the Caribbean Sub-regional Workshop on Alcohol, Tobacco, and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in Barbados May 16-18.
In the Caribbean, non-communicable diseases account for three out of four deaths, officials say. Tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity are the main causes of these diseases.
Health experts say compared to other sub-regions 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 Sub-regional Program Coordinator. “We all win if these measures are applied and more is invested in healthy interventions.”
In 2013, the countries of the Americas committed themselves to reduce by 25% 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.
Of the 14 PAHO member countries in this sub-region, 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, PAHO says, of the 11 countries that have taxes on tobacco, none reaches the level recommended by World Health Organization of more than 70% of the final sales price.
Officials say 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.