'Sin taxes' on sugar, alcohol and tobacco likely to change lifestyle
So-called 'sin taxes' on soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco could greatly help combat rising rates of chronic disease worldwide, researchers claim.
A global study found taxes on these products are more likely to change the lifestyle behaviour of vulnerable poorer consumers while the tax revenues would come from higher income households.
Poorer sections of society are disproportionately affected by non-communicable diseases (NCDs) linked to lifestyle, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, doctors discovered.
NCDs were described as a "major cause and consequence" of poverty.
The findings come from a series of articles published in 'The Lancet' medical journal.
The sugar tax is to come into effect here in May, while in Britain a tax on sugary drinks came into effect yesterday and will see significant cost added to the price of fizzy drinks.
It is designed to hit manufacturers rather than consumers, but will likely lead to price rises.
Any drink in the UK containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml will incur a levy of 18p (20c) per litre. The tax goes up to 24p per litre if the sugar content is over 8g per 100ml.
Here, the tax will see 16c added to a litre for drinks with between 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, which will rise to 24c per litre for varieties with over 8g.
Experts gathered data from 13 countries, all with large poor populations.
In one example, they cited the introduction of a soft drinks tax in Mexico which resulted in an average 4.2 litre reduction in consumption per person in 2014. Soft drink purchases decreased by 17pc in lower income groups, but hardly changed among the better off.
Other research found that in the UK - not one of the countries assessed - the response to the possible introduction of a minimum price for alcohol was likely to be 7.6 times larger in poorer households than in the richest.
Dr Rachel Nugent, of the non-profit institute RTI International in Seattle, America, who chaired 'The Lancet' Taskforce on NCDs and Economics, said: "Non-communicable diseases are a major cause and consequence of poverty worldwide.
"Responding to this challenge means big investments to improve healthcare systems worldwide.
"Taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains, and the evidence shows these can be implemented fairly, without disproportionately harming the poorest in society."
However, the findings were strongly challenged by Christopher Snowdon, of the Institute of Economic Affairs.
He said the claim that poor people disproportionately benefit from these taxes is "absurd".
"Sugar taxes have not reduced obesity rates anywhere in the world, and smoking is much more prevalent among the poor than among the rich," he insisted. "There is precious little evidence that poor people benefit from being taxed.
"On the contrary, sin taxes drive them further into poverty."