Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies

Taxes on alcohol and tobacco have long been an important means of raising revenues for public spending in many countries but there is increasing interest in using taxes on these, and other unhealthy products, to achieve public health goals. This systematic review aims to generate insights into how such taxes can: (i) reduce consumption of targeted products and related harms; (ii) generate revenues for health objectives and distribute the tax burden across income groups in an efficient and equitable manner; and (iii) be made politically sustainable. Findings demonstrate that high tax rates on sugar-sweetened beverages are likely to have a positive impact on health behaviors and outcomes, and, while taxes on products reduce demand, they add to fiscal revenues. If the primary policy goal of a health tax is to reduce consumption of unhealthy products, then evidence supports the implementation of taxes that increase the price of products by 20% or more. Earmarking health taxes for health spending tends to increase public support so long as policymakers follow through on specified spending commitments. Citation: Wright A, Smith KE, Hellowell M. Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):583.