As of 23 June 2016, the Government of Fiji has increased taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugar sweetened beverages1.Tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diet are all targeted by these taxes and all lead to increased risk of developing NCDs2. The World Heart Federation commends the Ministry of Health’s decision to control these cardiovascular risk factors through taxation.
Evidence from countries of all income levels has shown that simple increases in tobacco prices through taxation are the most cost-effective way for governments to reduce tobacco use. Fiji’s tax policy will not just increase government revenue; according to the WHO a 10% increase in tobacco retail price (in middle income countries) results in a 5% decrease in consumption. In Fiji 53% of males and 18% of females currently smoke3. It is a well-known fact that tobacco use is the leading preventable risk factor for NCDs, being the single risk factor common to all four main NCDs (CVD, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases)4.
In the last 10 years childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in Fiji5. One of the many benefits of the government’s introduction of a 5 cent per litre tax on sugary beverages is the prevention of childhood obesity through reduction of soft drink consumption. While the health benefits of similar sugar taxes, such as the one introduced in Mexico in 2014, have not yet been analysed, Mexico saw a 12% reduction in sugary drinks sales within a year of the tax being implemented6.
The Pacific Islands have been described as the ‘per capita NCD epicentre of the world’7. Of the Pacific islands, Fiji has the highest percentage of deaths due to NCDs: 77%. A draft report by the World Bank and partners predicts that if no action is taken the economic burden in Fiji would reach 10.9% of GDP by 20408. We commend Fiji for introducing pioneering taxation methods that are a clear decision to control NCDs. We hope other countries will follow Fiji’s lead.
The World Heart Federation has written personally to the Fiji Ministry of Health to congratulate the government on the recent tax increases targeting NCD risk factors. The tobacco and alcohol taxes have been increased by 18.5% and a new levy on sugar sweetened drinks has been introduced.