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Welsh tax-raising powers could improve population health

A new review published by Public Health Wales finds that Wales’ new tax-raising powers could be used to improve population health and reduce deaths from non-communicable disease.

Dr Sumina Azam, Head of Policy at Public Health Wales and co-author of the review commented: “In the UK we have a long history of using tax to drive down consumption levels of tobacco and alcohol, which has helped improve the health of the population.

“The report findings suggest that the Welsh Government has a unique opportunity to explore how its new tax-raising powers can help improve public health. Such a move could command public support with 8 in 10 respondents to the recent Stay Well in Wales survey agreeing that healthy foods should cost a bit less and unhealthy foods a bit more. Only six percent of respondents disagreed.”

The literature review found that novel approaches to tax on high fat, high salt or high sugar foods have helped reduce purchasing and consumption behaviour of these foods in other countries, including in Mexico and Hungary.

Aimed at health policy leaders, this review explores how novel fiscal policies might help Wales meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases – which includes obesity-related diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and cancers – by one third by 2030. In Wales the Government has the advantage of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which sets a unique legislative backdrop that underpins all public policy decisions.

Professor Mark Bellis, Director of Policy and International Health, WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health & Well-being, based at Public Health Wales, said: “It is important that taxation is not seen in isolation, but as a tool to use in combination with other health-focused policies. To be effective, tax interventions may need to be supported with subsidies for healthier options and other policies that help reduce health-harming behaviours, support people who live in more disadvantaged communities, and guide consumers towards healthier consumption”.

Commenting on the potential application of additional taxes in Wales, lead report author Adam Jones of Public Health Wales said: “From reviewing international examples of taxation aimed at improving health and reducing consumption of unhealthy commodities, we found valuable lessons for any Government seeking to introduce new policy in this arena.”