Higher alcohol prices may curb drinking: study

NEW YORK Wed Jan 4, 2012 4:20pm EST

A shopper selects bottles of wine at the Costco Warehouse in Arlington, Virginia, May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Molly Riley

A shopper selects bottles of wine at the Costco Warehouse in Arlington, Virginia, May 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Molly Riley

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new Canadian study suggests increasing the minimum price of beer, liquor and other alcoholic beverages may reduce how much people drink.

Researchers used data from the Canadian province of British Columbia, where the government sets the minimum price for alcohol and keeps information on its sales.

For every 10-percent price hike, they found people drank 3.4 percent less alcohol, and their consumption of particular drinks dropped even more.

"This is an important finding about an effective but under-utilized policy," said Dr. Tim Naimi, who studies alcohol control policies but wasn't involved in the new work.

In an email to Reuters Health, Naimi, of Boston University's School of Medicine, said raising the minimum price is "something of a silver bullet" when it comes to reining in drinking.

And it could have important implications for public health, said study researcher Tim Stockwell, because cutting back on alcohol might also help curb car accidents and ailments such as fatty liver disease.

"All of these things are related to the excessive use of alcohol," Stockwell told Reuters Health. "Access to our favorite drug does come at a cost."

Stockwell, who heads the Centre for Addictions Research of BC in Victoria, and his colleagues looked at government data from 1989 to 2010. Even after accounting for general economic indicators, they found a strong link between prices and drinking patterns.

Specifically, for every 10-percent increase in the minimum price of an alcoholic drink, consumption of spirits and liqueurs fell by 6.8 percent, wine by 8.9 percent, alcoholic sodas and ciders by 13.9 percent and beer by 1.5 percent.

British Columbia has a mix of private and state-owned alcohol distributors, but all sales must first go through a government agency, Stockwell said.

The findings, published in the journal Addiction, don't prove that price hikes are entirely responsible for the changes in people's drinking habits. And the researchers caution that their results are limited by changes in demand and that they only used data on legally sold alcohol.

Still, Naimi told Reuters Health that raising the minimum price of an alcoholic drink can help limit a problem drinker's chance to shift to a less expensive drink, which he said is possible when a tax on certain type of alcohol is increased.

The U.S. does not currently set a minimum price for alcohol. Scotland announced plans to do so in 2010, while England is currently considering the option.

According to Alexander Wagenaar, a health policy expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville, there is a lot of research on the effects of alcohol taxes, and he considers minimum pricing to be part of that.

"There is no question that the level of alcohol prices has an effect on the health burden. So the minimum pricing is a piece of this large picture of how important alcohol tax policy is," said Wagenaar, who was not involved in the new study.

He added that alcohol taxes in the U.S. have not kept up with inflation and increasing income, which mutes any effect they might have.

SOURCE: bit.ly/A00qHE Addiction, online December 14, 2011.

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Comments (4)
Derik00 wrote:
That is fine for Canada where there is national health care and mental disorders are treated in the same urgency as other health issues.
In USA where there is no helth access for the disadvantaged and where mental health treatment is limited to the well to do, the goverment of the United States of America has “lost” the right to mendate it citizens how to take care of their health. Alcohol probably kills more people than cigaretes but it is the ONLY accessible inexpensive pscho-tropic drug for self medicating. In the comtext of American legal and health care system in my opinion “sin taxes” are infringement of my rights thus they are illegal. When USA puts the healt care of its citizeens above politics and corporate greed by providing ACCESIBLE COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH CARE, then they can raise sin taxes like EU and Canada. Until than I would shut up. Tax or no tax the sick will abuse alcohol and cigaretes at the expense of their families grocery money. Which planet are the goverments living in???

Jan 05, 2012 8:40am EST  --  Report as abuse
j-lpryor wrote:
Higher costs to the consumers may mean more $ for GREEDY POLITICANS.
Nearing $5.00 (U.S.)a pack for cigarettes doesn’t help at all, because that GREAAT INCREASE BENEFITED THE EDUCATION SYSTEM WITH MORE PERKS !!!

Jan 05, 2012 3:41pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Chicago77 wrote:
I’m guessing it would also increase the amount of people using potentially deadly moonshine. Which would not likely show on their studies.

Jan 10, 2012 12:54pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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