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Ministry considers imposing tax on junk foods, alcohol

The government is considering levying health promotion tax on alcohol and junk food in a bid to cut snowballing medical costs for treating chronic illnesses.

A Ministry of Health and Welfare committee on Wednesday considered the new tax as a way to extend the country’s disability-adjusted healthy life expectancy to 75 years by 2020. According to the World Health Organization’s definition, the DAHLE is the average number of years that a person can expect to live in full health, taking into account years lived in less than full health due to disease and injury.

“Liquor, tobacco and junk foods such as hamburgers and soda are blamed as a key cause of various chronic illnesses including hypertension and diabetes. To achieve the goal of extending life expectancy to 75 years by 2020, we need to strengthen our monitoring and management of these items,” Park In-seok, a ministry official, said.

As a possible step to cut consumption, the panel discussed the prohibition of liquor sales and drinking in public places, installation of soda or other drinks vending machines, a decrease in time slots for fatty food commercials on TV and radio.

Other measures studied included tightening monitoring and regulations on alcohol consumption and teenagers’ access to it.

The revenue from the tax would be used for anti-drinking campaigns, alcohol addiction rehabilitation and prevention as well as overall health management.

The plan came as the socioeconomic damage stemming from excessive drinking marked 20 trillion won as of 2005, which accounted for 2.8 percent of gross domestic product. Junk foods, considered the major culprit behind youth obesity and many chronic illnesses, are also subject to tax of this kind in other countries.

In New York State in the U.S., an 18 percent tax is levied on high-calorie junk foods and sugary beverages. The health ministry added that the teenage obesity prevalence rate in Denmark plummeted after a 25 percent tax was imposed on ice cream, chocolate and soda.

However, the authorities decided to take things slow, considering the possible backlash from related industries, whose business is very sensitive to price changes.

“We know that public consent is needed. We will form another committee to further the discussion and reviews,” Park said.

By Bae Ji-sook