Health Taxes on Tobacco, Alcohol, Food and Drinks in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Scoping Review of Policy Content, Actors, Process and Context
Taxation of tobacco, food, alcohol and other beverages has gained renewed attention in responding to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). While largely built on evidence from high-income countries (HICs), the projected economic and health benefits of these measures have increased calls for their use in price-sensitive low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). However, uptake has been sporadic and there remains little research on why and how LMICs utilise fiscal measures in response to NCDs.
This scoping review analyses factors influencing the design and implementation of health-related fiscal measures in LMICs. Utilising Arksey and O’Malley’s scoping review methodology and Walt and Gilson’s policy triangle, the researchers considered the contextual, procedural, content and stakeholder-related factors that influenced measures.
The study identified 75 papers focusing on health-related fiscal measures, with 47 (63%) focused on tobacco, five on alcohol, six on soft drink and four studies on food-related fiscal regulation. Thirteen papers analyzed multiple measures and most papers (n = 66, 88%) were less than a decade old.
Key factors enabling the design and implementation of measures included localized health and economic evidence, policy championing, inter-ministerial support, and global or regional momentum.
Impeding factors encompassed negative framing and retaliation by industry, vested interests and governmental policy disjuncture.
Aligning with theoretic insights from the policy triangle, findings consistently demonstrated that the interplay between factors – rather than the presence or absence of particular factors – has the most profound impact on policy implementation.
Given the growing urgency to address NCDs in LMICs, this review highlights the need for recognition and rigorous exploration of political economy factors influencing the design and implementation of fiscal measures. Broader LMIC-specific empirical research is needed to overcome an implication noted in much of the literature: that mechanisms used to enact tobacco taxation are universally applicable to measures targeting foods, alcohol and other beverages.