High alcohol taxes will save youth from potential harm

The adverse effects of alcohol on youth in Kenya have reached alarming levels. Increasing the price of all alcoholic beverages, including beer, is a proven strategy to protect our youth and nation, because it helps reduce population-level alcohol use, and it helps avoid or delay initiation among youth.

The vast majority of Kenyans want to see action to mitigate alcohol harm. They think alcohol is a significant problem and nearly 7 out of 10 of our citizens support raising alcohol taxes to promote health. The profound harm caused by alcohol extends far beyond individual health, impacting families, communities, and society.

The negative impact of alcohol use is evident, with 40 per cent of Kenyans expressing grave concern over the link between alcohol-related harm and domestic violence within households. Additionally, 28 per cent of Kenyans are alarmed by the strong link between alcohol consumption and car crashes. These figures emphasise the urgent need to address the pervasive and multi-faceted dangers of alcohol, reinforcing the call for more stringent alcohol control measures.

This issue has garnered needed national attention, with the government making this a priority by highlighting the grave concern of alcohol consumption among young Kenyans. According to the World Health Organisation, widespread availability and affordability of alcohol have led to an increase in alcohol use, which fuels a range of negative outcomes, including poor academic performance, increased risk of accidents, and long-term health problems.

In response to the alarming levels of alcohol-related harm, the Finance Bill 2024 has taken a critical and commendable step to propose tax increments on spirits and wines, which will result in reducing the alcohol crisis.  The Finance Bill 2024 wisely suggests a new way to calculate excise taxes on beer, wine, and spirits based on their alcohol by volume (ABV), instead of the current flat rate for each type. This change in structure has the potential, if implemented effectively, to prevent and reduce alcohol harm. However, to fully realise the potential benefits of this policy, it is imperative to extend this tax increase to beer.

According to a survey by Vital Strategies, a global public health organisation, 58 per cent of Kenyans who have consumed alcohol in the past year drank beer, making it the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. If we don’t make beer less affordable, young people will simply continue to heavily use this product.

Despite the evident harm, the alcohol industry continues to profit from products that severely impact the youth, and the nation at large. This is why 70 per cent of Kenyans polled also believe that the alcohol industry must be held responsible for their relentless pursuit of profit at the expense of Kenyan youth. Alcohol companies continue to employ aggressive marketing strategies, often targeting young people with price promotions and cheap products. The financial gains of the industry cannot justify the widespread harm and massive costs inflicted on society, particularly on youth.

Many countries have successfully reduced alcohol harm by implementing comprehensive alcohol tax policies. Botswana is a case in point. From the 2008 introduction of the 30 per cent levy on alcohol, alongside other alcohol policy and road safety reforms, the government in Botswana raised the alcohol excise tax three times to reach 55 per cent ad valorem tax in 2015. Subsequently, the alcohol tax increases and other alcohol policy improvements, traffic crash rates fell by 12 per cent in seven months.  In addition, Botswana collected more than US$100 million that was directed to beneficial policies. This example points to alcohol taxation’s ability to contribute to health and safety and generate revenue.

The argument that increasing alcohol taxes will lead to a rise in illicit trade is misleading.  It is alcohol industry propaganda intended to distract attention from what taxes will achieve for public health. The National Assembly can safeguard our youth, enhance public health, and pave the way for a brighter future for all Kenyans by taking decisive action.

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