Raising Alcohol Prices Saves LivesEditor's Choice
Main Category: Alcohol / Addiction / Illegal Drugs
Article Date: 07 Feb 2013 - 10:00 PST
Raising Alcohol Prices Saves Lives
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After raising alcoholic drink prices by 10%, alcohol-related deaths in Canada dropped by nearly one third, researchers from the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia reported in the journal Addiction.
The authors explained that between 2002 and 2009, the total number of deaths in British Columbia fell considerably more than experts had expected after the minimum price of alcohol was raised.
This study has "significant implications for international alcohol policy", they wrote.
The study, which was carried out in the western-most province in Canada (British Columbia), classed alcohol-related deaths in three ways:
- AA - wholly alcohol attributable deaths - included alcohol poisoning, alcoholic psychoses, fetal alchol syndrome, chronic pancreatitis (induced by alcohol), alcoholic gastritis, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependence.
- Acute (acute alcohol attributable deaths) - included mainly injuries, both intentional and accidental .
- Chronic - (chronic alcohol attributable deaths) - caused by long-term alcohol consumption (in excess), including liver cirrhosis, cancers of the colon, mouth, esophagus, stomach and breast.
During the study period, British Columbia had authorized the partial privatization of alcohol retail outlets, resulting in significantly more shops that sold alcohol. The authors described this as a "complication".
Alcoholic drinks had only been allowed to be sold directly to the public through government owned shops, unlike Europe where these products can be purchased in supermarkets, gas stations and liquor stores (off-licences).
Therefore, the investigators had to factor in this wider availability of alcohol, and assess what the effect might be on death rates.
Below are some highlighted data from the study:
- The team's major finding was that a 10% rise in the average minimum price for alcoholic drinks was linked to a 32% drop in wholly alcohol attributable deaths.
- Even after one year following the minimum price increases, their effects on reducing alcohol-related deaths were still growing .
- There were considerable decreases in chronic and total AA deaths between two and three years after the minimum price rises .
- 10% more retail outlets selling alcoholic beverages correlated with a 2% rise in acute, chronic and total AA death rates .
Lead author, Dr Tim Stockwell and team believe that the reason for the fall in death rates is the result of raising the prices of the cheaper drinks, which in turn reduces the consumption of these drinks by the heavier drinkers who tend to prefer them.
The report pointed out that the impact of raising the prices of the cheapest alcoholic drinks can take one or two years to come through.
Dr Tim Stockwell said:
"This study adds to the scientific evidence that, despite popular opinion to the contrary, even the heaviest drinkers reduce their consumption when minimum alcohol prices increase. It is hard otherwise to explain the significant changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia."
Scotch Whisky Association Refutes the Canadian StudyGavin Hewitt, CEO of the Scotch Whisky Association said that the Canadian study would be amazing if it was true. He explained that the pricing of alcohol in British Columbia (BC) is controlled by the Provincial Government, which sets prices to protect the State's revenue, rather than health reasons.
Hewitt adds that the price in BC is not calculated on "an alcohol volume of a unit or standard drink" basis. The reference price for spirits in BC is nine times greater than for beer.
The prices for beer and spirits were raised by 18% in BC between 2004 and 2009. If there had been a link between price and alcohol-related deaths, one would have expected the total number of deaths to drop. Hewitt said "The inconvenient truth for the researchers in BC is that alcohol related deaths in British Columbia rose over that period by 9%. That's what is happening in real life. That's the real evidence."
Previous studies point to a drop in alcohol-related deaths when prices riseUnited Kingdom - Researchers from the King's Fund, England, reported in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) (April 2012 issue) that alcohol consumption, hospitalizations and alcohol-related deaths would be reduced significantly if the UK Government went ahead with its plan to impose a minim price on a unit of alcohol.
The King's Fund Chief Economist, John Appleby said that imposing a 40p ($0.63) minimum price for a unit of alcohol would result in a reduction of alcohol consumption of about 2.4%, 38,900 fewer hospitalizations and 1,149 fewer alcohol-related deaths.
Appleby added that if the minimum price were set at 50p ($0.79), these effects would "more than double".
New Zealand - A report in the New Zealand Medical Journal indicated that "alcohol is now cheaper than bottled water" in New Zealand. The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) said that price rises are a vital part of addressing the growing problem of binge drinking.
Dr. Peter Foley, NZMA Chairman, said "We were disappointed when the Government ruled out raising excise tax on alcohol, as recommended by the Law Commission report. International evidence shows that cheap alcohol leads to increased consumption. Today's research states that controls on price are particularly effective in targeting heavy drinkers, and youth. It is alarming that the affordability of alcohol has actually improved in recent years, making it even more difficult to address excess alcohol consumption."
Written by Christian Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without permission of Medical News Today
"The relationship between changes to minimum alcohol prices, outlet densities and alcohol attributable deaths in British Columbia in 2002-2009"
Addiction, 108: doi: 10.1111/add.12139
19 Jun. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/256055.php>
Please note: If no author information is provided, the source is cited instead.
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