Raise sin tax to fight deadly disease

Millions of deaths from cancer, heart attacks, diabetes and lung disease could be avoided or postponed if low-income countries adopt low-cost strategies to prevent and treat these illnesses. This money could be easily raised from taxes on tobacco and alcohol, which are leading causes of these dread diseases.

A new World Health Organisation (WHO) study finds that low-income countries could act to prevent and treat deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and lung disease for just US$ 1.20 (R9.87) per person per year. Such interventions would save literally millions of lives over the next 15 years, says the WHO, including cutting deaths from heart disease, the world’s leading killer, by a third.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - like heart attacks, strokes, cancers, diabetes, emphysema and asthma - are the leading cause of death worldwide. NCDs kill 35 million people every year or one person every second. Nearly 80 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Families pushed into poverty

The threat is not only to health but NCDs also increase poverty and will slow global economic growth and development. “Over the next 15 years, NCDs will cost poorer countries more than US$ 7 trillion,” the chairman of the World Economic Forum, Jean Pierre Rosso, reportedly stated. “When so many of the workforce are sick and die in their productive years, national economies lose billions of dollars in output. And millions of families are pushed into poverty,” he added.

The challenge from NCDS to Africa is tremendous but the WHO study shows that that there are affordable steps all governments can take.

The WHO package - which includes tobacco control, reduction of salt and fat in processed food, basic generic drugs for heart and diabetic patients, screening for cervical cancer, and a few other measures - would cost less than $1 (R8.23) a year per person in the poorest countries and about $3 (R24.71) per person in richer ones. For the world’s 144 low- and middle-income nations, the investment would be at least $11.4 billion.

Raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol

Low-income countries can raise money for the work immediately by raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, says Dr Yussuf Saloojee of the National Council Against Smoking. The WHO and other health experts agree that reducing tobacco use is the most important step, and that raising cigarette prices through taxes is the most powerful way to do it.

In South Africa taxes make up about 52% of the retail price of a packet of cigarettes, which is well below the WHO recommendation that taxes should be at least 75% of the price. “When the price of tobacco products goes up, people respond by giving up, cutting down or never starting. Not only will thousands of lives be saved by this approach, but experience shows that higher taxes means higher government revenues” says Saloojee.

National Council Against Smoking press release

Read more:

Chronic disease to cost $47 trillion by 2030
Leaders vow to cut deaths from chronic disease
Cigarette makers, FDA clash

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