Research Overview: Taxing Harmful Commodities

The Center for Global Development (CGD) has compiled an useful overview of organizations conducting research into taxing harmful commodities, including tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks.

From the CGD overview, it is evident that in comparison to tobacco taxation research initiatives and even compared to research in sugar-sweetened beverage research, much more needs to be done with regards to alcohol taxation. Research initiatives appear to be much scarcer in the field of alcohol taxation, and originate only from the World Health Organization.

Tobacco taxation

International Development Research Centre and Cancer Research UK

The Canadian International Development Research Centre and Cancer Research UK are together funding a series of projects under the Economics of Tobacco Control Research Initiative.

In the first funding round, seven teams spanning 20 countries will conduct policy-relevant research with the objective of articulating an evidence-based, economic rationale for the prevention of tobacco-related diseases including:

  1. Strengthening the evidence for advancing tobacco control policy in Mexico, Colombia, and India
  2. Tobacco tax reforms to promote economic development in West Africa
  3. Fostering effective tobacco control policy implementation in Nigeria
  4. Gathering new evidence on the economics of waterpipe tobacco smoking in the eastern Mediterranean
  5. Making tobacco taxation work in Vietnam
  6. Measuring tobacco-attributable costs and illicit trade effects for optimal tobacco tax scenarios in eight Latin America countries
  7. Improving the implementation of tobacco taxation in Southeast Asia

Research Councils UK

The Tobacco Control Capacity Programme is a £3.4 million programme of training and research funded by Research Councils UK as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund.

The research will focus in particular on three issues relevant to Sustainable Development Goal 3: tobacco taxation; preventing illicit trade in tobacco and preventing tobacco industry interference.

Institute of Economic Sciences Belgrade

The Institute of Economic Sciences, a research institute based in Belgrade, is coordinating a regional network of research on tobacco taxation in the Western Balkans.

The research focuses on knowledge gaps in the economic and fiscal aspects of national tobacco taxation policy critical to informing effective tax policy. Research topics include costs and benefits of tobacco to government budgets; labour impacts; illicit trade; tax compliance of the tobacco industry, including tax evasion and avoidance; and tobacco tax impacts on inequality.


Accelerating Progress on Tobacco Taxes in Low‑ and Middle‑Income Countries is funded by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. It aims to build capacity of economic and fiscal policy focused think tanks to provide evidence-based support for effective tobacco taxes.

An economic model developed jointly by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Tobacconomics projects the increase in state revenues, public health benefits, and health care cost savings resulting from increases in state cigarette tax rates. The projections are updated annually.

WHO Tobacco Free Initiative

The WHO Tobacco Free Initiative’s economics team has been working closely with several countries to examine the structure and dynamics of their tobacco markets, and to help implement better tobacco tax policy. This has led to the development of the WHO Tobacco Tax Simulation (TaXSiM) model to help countries with tax policy analysis, impact assessment, and decision-making.

Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases

Ina $1.5 million, five-year project initiated by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the International Development Research Centre, and the South African Medical Research Council, researchers are studying the impact of tobacco prices on smoking onset, smoking cessation, and tobacco consumption in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, South Africa, and Vietnam.

Alcohol taxation

World Health Organization

In the WHO Global Alcohol Strategy, pricing policies represent one of the key areas recommended for governments to use. WHO’s global noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) action plan 2013-2020 contains a menu of policy options and interventions for prevention and control of major NCDs. An updated list of the most effective and complementary policy options recommends increasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverages as one of the most cost-effective interventions governments can use.

To that end, in conjunction with the Center for Alcohol Studies, Thailand, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada, WHO has developed a resource tool on alcohol taxation and pricing policies. This resource tool is intended to enhance knowledge and competence relating to taxation and pricing policies among public health professionals and alcohol-control policy advocates, to support the inclusion of key public health perspectives in the design and implementation of alcohol taxation and pricing policies.

PAHO Policy Brief: Alcohol Taxation in the Americas

A new policy brief on alcohol policy by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has found alcohol taxation to be the most effective alcohol policy measure in reducing alcohol consumption. The brand new policy brief highlights pervasive alcohol harm across the region of the Americas.

According to the “Policy Brief: Alcohol Taxation and Pricing Policies in the Region of the Americas”, alcohol taxation was found to save 22 international dollars per Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) in low and lower-middle income countries. The saving was 41 international dollars per DALY for middle and high income countries.

IOGT International campaign to make alcohol taxation a priority

In its advocacy campaign, IOGT International is raising awareness about the benefits of alcohol taxation to help achieve health and development for all.

It is evident that in comparison to tobacco taxation research initiatives and even compared to research in sugar-sweetened beverage research, much more needs to be done with regards to alcohol taxation. as it has been found to boost revenue which can fund development.

IOGT International’s 2015 report on alcohol taxation concludes: Alcohol taxation is a triple-win measure for increasing fiscal space, boosting health promotion and financing sustainable development.

Sugary drinks taxation

UNC Chapel Hill

The Global Food Research Program at UNC Chapel Hill addresses effective ways to improve diets and prevent obesity by focusing on five major areas of large-scale, national regulatory efforts, one of which is the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages, nonessential foods (i.e., “junk food”), or sugar.

Allcott, Hunt, Benjamin Lockwood, and Dmitry Taubinsky (2019) find that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes are welfare enhancing and offer seven concrete suggestions for policymakers considering a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

For further reading about alcohol taxation:

Alcohol taxation in the Americas

New Policy Brief: Alcohol Taxation in the Americas

Benefits of alcohol taxation

New Resource: Benefits Of Alcohol Taxation

Source Website: Center for Global Development