Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) lead to around 120,000 deaths in Sri Lanka each year, constituting 83% of the overall recorded deaths. The revised National Policy and Strategic Framework for the Prevention and Control of NCDs is a positive initiative by the government to address this. Such policies can play a crucial role in promoting healthier lifestyles, preventing NCDs, and improving overall public health. However, the question that lingers is, how effective are the existing measures, and where can we make improvements?
In the battle against NCDs, the government implemented a crucial policy in 2017 – the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage (SSB) tax. This tax aimed to curb the consumption of SSBs closely linked to health problems like obesity, diabetes, and dental issues. While this measure holds great promise, evaluating its effectiveness is difficult owing to data gaps. However, an IPS analysis of how SSB taxes are helping to reduce their consumption in Sri Lanka provides some initial insights.
Over the last few decades, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have become a critical health challenge in Sri Lanka, accounting for over 80% of total deaths and 38% of health expenditure in 2019. The economic impact is particularly challenging for households affected by chronic NCDs as they bear higher costs of medicines, pharmaceutical products, medical laboratory tests, and other ancillary services. With the current economic downturn, preventing and financing NCDs has become even more challenging for Sri Lanka. An ongoing IPS study delves into the implications of the economic crisis on the country’s health system, with a specific focus on NCD prevention and financing. The study conducted an extensive analysis by gathering perspectives from various stakeholders. This blog is based on the information collected from these stakeholders.
Sri Lanka’s economy is at a critical juncture where urgent steps are needed to improve the country’s fiscal position. The Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) has maintained that increasing tobacco taxation has undeniable health and fiscal benefits. Among the benefits of increasing tobacco taxes are the generation of additional revenue for the government, widespread support among the public for an increase in tobacco taxation, and the reduced burden on Sri Lanka’s struggling health system. In this context, policy solutions, such as taxing tobacco which can be leveraged to boost government revenue without threatening economic growth, are essential. This blog argues that the 2023 Budget should introduce a model of indexation which automatically links tobacco taxation rises with the size of the economy and inflation. This would raise substantial additional revenue from the excise tax on cigarettes.
Beedi smoking is widespread in Sri Lanka, accounting for nearly 23% of the country’s smokers. The absence of a filter makes it an unsafe product exposing its users to nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide. As such, this tobacco product is possibly more harmful to human health than other forms of smoking. However, beedi remains an underregulated product notwithstanding the provisions of the Tobacco Tax Act No. 8 of 1999. This blog argues that beedi taxation is a low-hanging fruit to boost government revenue and reduce the foreign exchange outflow with the added benefit of improving the health of Sri Lankans. An excise tax on beedi can benefit the economy in several ways: it would directly increase government revenue, lower beedi consumption, and decrease raw material import costs thus reducing dollar outflows. Lower beedi use would also lower smoking-related health issues, thereby reducing the government’s expenditure on health.
In line with globally recommended practices to reduce the dietary risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the Sri Lankan government implemented a traffic-light labelling (TLL) system for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) in August 2016. The purpose of the regulations was to educate the public on the sugar content in SSBs to promote healthy diets in Sri Lanka and reduce NCDs associated with a high sugar intake. Six years on, it is time to assess the effectiveness of TLL in encouraging healthier food choices. Based on an ongoing IPS study – ‘Strengthening Fiscal Policies and Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets in Sri Lanka’ and written ahead of World Health Day 2022, this blog – discusses consumers’ knowledge of TLL and how it impacts their SSB choices.