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Alcohol taxes aren't high enough, says World Health Organisation

FILE PHOTO: Bottles of alcoholic drinks are displayed at the Sausalitos bar in Munich

LONDON (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation urged governments on Tuesday to increase taxes on alcoholic drinks and impose them on products that are currently exempt, such as wine in some European countries.

Sugary beverages should also be taxed at higher rates, the WHO said, adding that every year 2.6 million people die from drinking alcohol and 8 million people die due to unhealthy diets.

Rudiger Krech, director of health promotion at the WHO, said taxing such products at a higher rate creates healthier populations.

"It has a positive ripple effect across society - less disease and debilitation and revenue for governments to provide public services," Krech continued, adding that in the case of alcohol it also helps prevent violence and road traffic injuries.

Public health organisations like the WHO are increasingly turning their attention to the health impact of products like alcohol and sugary food, after making significant gains in highlighting the death and disease caused by cigarettes.

The WHO also released an "alcohol tax manual" on Tuesday to accompany similar documents targeting tobacco and sugar sweetened beverages.

It says that most alcohol taxes are "low and not optimally designed" and that wine is not taxed at all in 22 countries, mostly in Europe, calling on governments to introduce higher rates and tax all kinds of alcohol.

Drinking alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions, including some cancers, liver cirrhosis and cardiovascular diseases, according to the WHO.

Alcohol industry associations say that higher levies lead to reduced sales and lower tax revenues, while threatening some businesses' survival.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Frances Kerry)