Alcohol Price Increases Drops Mortality Rate
February 8, 2013

When You Raise The Price Of Alcoholic Beverages, Deaths Decrease: Study

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

According to new data released this week, a drop in alcohol-related deaths was seen in Canada after the minimum alcohol price was increased.

British Columbia researchers carried out a study to determine what happened once prices of alcohol increased in Canada. They found that between 2002 and 2009, the percentage of deaths caused by alcohol had dropped.

During the study, the team used three categories of death associated with alcohol, including wholly alcohol attributable (AA), acute, and chronic. They analyzed death rates across the time period against increases in government set minimum prices of alcohol drinks.

While the study was ongoing, another provincial policy was enacted, allowing partial privatization of alcohol retail stores. Previously, alcohol could only be sold directly to the public in government owned stores. Because of this, the researchers had to make controls for the effects of the wider availability of alcohol, and assess what effect this measure had on mortality rates.

They said the major finding in the study was that increased minimum alcohol prices were associated with immediate, substantial and significant reductions in wholly AA deaths.

With a 10 percent increase in the average minimum price for all alcoholic beverages, the researchers saw it was associated with a 32 percent reduction in wholly AA deaths.

Significant reductions in chronic and total AA deaths were detected between two and three years after minimum price increases, while some of the effect was also detected for up to a year after prices increased.

A rise in prices by 10 percent in private liquor stores saw a 2 percent increase in acute, chronic, and total AA mortality rates, according to the research.

The overall drop in deaths was more than expected, finding that a minimum price increase of 1 percent was associated with a mortality decline of more than 3 percent.

Researchers believe the reason for the reduction in mortality is that increasing the price for cheaper drinks reduces the consumption on heavier drinkers, who tend to prefer these drinks. They said other research has suggested that impacts on some types of mortality may be delayed by a year or two after prices increase.

"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," Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia and a lead author, said. "It is hard otherwise to explain the significant changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia."

Alcohol Focus Scotland told BBC News that the study adds to evidence that minimum pricing is an effective tool for reducing alcohol abuse.

"This is important evidence which shows that minimum pricing is saving lives in Canada and will save lives in Scotland," Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive, told BBC. "Increasing the price of the cheapest alcohol through minimum pricing has the biggest effect on the heaviest drinkers who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death."

However, the researchers' findings were also met with opposition from the Wind and Spirits Association (WSA).

"There is not a simple link between alcohol price and harm," Miles Beale, chief executive of WSA, told BBC. "Consumption is more likely to be related to cultural factors and that the increase in price does not impact on these significantly."

He said the industry is committed to tackling problems with drinking, but that minimum pricing would not do that.

Study findings were published this week in the journal Addiction.