WHO Manual on Sugar Sweetened Beverages Taxation to Promote Healthier Diets

World Health Organization
Resource type:
Peer review

Over the past few decades, tobacco and alcohol taxes have gained widespread recognition as an effective public health tool to reduce the consumption of harmful products, along with their associated health burden, by raising product prices and thus reducing their affordability. A growing body of evidence and country experiences indicate that SSB taxes are also an effective tool to reduce consumption, with the potential to improve health.

There is now growing momentum to support the implementation of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) taxes. This tax manual, which seeks to harness this impetus, is a practical guide for policy-makers and others involved in SSB tax policy development to promote healthy diets and populations. It features summaries and case studies of SSB global taxation evidence, and provides support on the policy-cycle development process to implement SSB taxation — from problem identification and situation analysis to the monitoring and evaluation phase. Significantly, the manual also identifies and debunks industry tactics designed to dissuade policy-makers from implementing these taxes.

SSB taxes can be a win-win-win strategy: a win for public health (and averted health-care costs), a win for government revenue, and a win for health equity.  The novelty of SSB taxation as a policy measure means that observational evidence on health improvements resulting from SSB taxes is currently sparse. Although longer-term data is needed to establish this causal relationship, existing evidence already shows a clear impact of SSB taxes on reducing purchases and increasing government revenue, which are used in many countries to finance health or social objectives.

The benefits of SSB taxes, therefore, can contain much untapped potential and generate substantial gains. This is true both in terms of additional countries applying SSB taxes, and of augmenting health benefits in those already applying such taxes. The rewards can also be magnified if taxes are implemented as part of a comprehensive policy package, including other demand-reduction measures such as restricting the marketing of SSBs, regulating their labels, and banning SSBs from schools and other settings. Delaying SSB tax implementation for the causal evidence linking it to improved health outcomes is risky given the current rise in NCDs and patterns of unhealthy food consumption. By the time absolute evidence is available, it might be too late.

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This resource has been peer reviewed