Alcohol taxation is one of the most cost-effective interventions for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030, a new expert study shows.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the world’s governments in 2015, are a shared blueprint for action by all countries – developed and developing – to achieve peace and prosperity for people and the planet. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve the planet’s oceans and forests.
NCDs as major obstacle to development
As people live longer, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are claiming more lives everywhere in the world. Nevertheless, NCDs only receive a fraction of health funding and political attention.
Alcohol is a major risk factor for NCDs, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, mental health conditions, and others. Together they are the world’s biggest obstacle to development.
The world promised to tackle chronic diseases by 2030 as part of the so-called Agenda 2030 and both NCDs and alcohol are included as SDGs 3.4 and 3.5.
Reducing NCDs mortality by 33% by 2030 is included in the SDG 3.4 target in the sustainable development goals. At the moment reaching this target is already in delay for many countries.
Reducing alcohol per capita consumption by 10% until 2023 is included in the SDG 3.5 target and indicator. But countries are off-track in achieving this goal.
Unfortunately, on current trends, the world’s governments will be half a century late delivering on the SDGs.
Direct and indirect health costs of alcohol use
Alcohol was responsible for quarter of NCD deaths in 2019 according to the Global Burden of Disease study 2020.
There are direct and indirect health cost caused by alcohol. The direct costs from alcohol-related chronic diseases include:
- digestive diseases,
- cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and
- mental health disorders.
- In addition, there are injuries and deaths caused by alcohol.
Indirect costs refer to the lost productivity, premature death and low quality of life.
Thus, the costs of alcohol are not only born by the government. Significantly, a large amount of loss is burdened on other sectors of a society, including people and communities.
Alcohol kills 300,000 people annually in low-income countries and 1.6 million in lower-middle-income countries, writes Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consenses Center in the National Post.
Alcohol contributes to a large number of diseases and causes an additional 700,000 accidental deaths globally, as well as immense social damage.
Alcohol has a negative impact on sustainable human development, hindering progress in 14 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It affects all three dimensions of development, including economic, social, and environmental aspects, and permeates through all aspects of society.
And poverty is in many ways – at least 7 – connected to alcohol and impacts all levels from individuals and families to communities and societies in general.
This indicates that addressing alcohol-related harms is crucial for achieving sustainable development.
The potential of alcohol policy to help reach the SDGs
In a new peer-reviewed paper, researchers of the Copenhagen Consensus Center examined the benefit-cost analyses of various NCD interventions in low-income (LICs) and lower–middle-income (LMCs) countries. The analyzed 30 interventions recommended by the Disease Control Priorities Project, including six intersectoral policies, such as taxes and 24 clinical services. Using a previously published model to estimate intervention costs and benefits through 2030, researchers found that intersectoral policies often provided great value for money.
They conclude that there are several cost-beneficial opportunities to tackle NCDs in LICs and LMCs. In countries with very limited resources, the best-investment interventions could begin to address the major NCD risk factors, especially tobacco and alcohol, and build greater health system capacity, with benefits continuing to accrue beyond 2030.
Improving alcohol policies could reduce overall alcohol consumption and avert 150,000 deaths over the rest of the decade until 2030.
Each dollar spent on alcohol policy development will deliver $76 of social benefits.
An alcohol tax increase alone can generate large, if slightly lower, benefits at $53 back on the dollar.
Alcohol policy as catalyst for development
Clearly alcohol policy in general and alcohol taxation in particular are very sound investments in reaching the SDGs.
Alcohol policy and alcohol taxation, as the single most cost-effective alcohol policy solution, help reduce population-level alcohol use and harm. The study shows they are very cost-beneficial interventions for promoting development.
The Copenhagen Consensus think tank has been working for years together with several Nobel laureates and more than a hundred leading economists to identify where each policy dollar can do the most good. Alcohol policy and alcohol taxation in particular are among the top options for governments.
The recent NCD Countdown Collaborators (early 2022) report, identified 30 cost effective interventions to reach the SDGs in the most effective and fastest manner. Sticking to these prioritized interventions has become a must to get back on track towards the Global Goals.
The potential of alcohol taxation for development
Low- and middle-income countries need interventions that use fewer resources while producing the largest effect – targeting the biggest obstacles to development.
According to several studies that have been reviewed, there is clear evidence for the effectiveness of that increasing the prices of alcohol and implementing alcohol taxes. This is because encourage people to consume less alcohol, resulting in fewer alcohol-related harms.
- NCD Countdown 2030: Pathways to achieving Sustainable Development Goal target 3.4. – Abstract – Europe PMC
- Get the facts straight | Bjorn Lomborg
- National Post: “Want to save millions of lives? Cut salt, tobacco and alcohol intake“