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When for England the UK government reverted from a proposed minimum unit price for alcohol to a ban on pricing below duty plus VAT, they abandoned a policy that would probably have had 40–50 times the impact on consumption and reaped correspondingly greater health gains.
Review updating knowledge to mid-2011 confirms that alcohol-related harm and illness have been curbed by increasing alcohol prices or taxes, but what happens to overall mortality remains unclear – and there is more to why people do or do not drink than health and harm.
For what seems the first time, this analysis combined results from relevant studies to test whether low tax/price levels on alcohol result in poorer health and higher death rates. It found the expected relationships, but based on only the partial accounting of the harms and benefits of drinking found in most studies.
Changing alcohol tax rates in New York state mostly did not significantly affect the number of people who died from alcohol related diseases, perhaps as overall tax rates were still very low, and increases or decreases not always applied to all types of alcohol at once.
A tax rise on 'alcopops' was on the agenda in Britain until they fell out of favour among young drinkers. Australia did however increase tax by a huge 70%. This study found no impact on short-term alcohol-related harm among the young revellers of its Gold Coast district, but probably there were broader benefits from reduced drinking.
Concern that sweetened alcoholic drinks ('alcopops') seduced adolescents to start drinking more and sooner led Germany to impose a tax rise nearly doubling their price. It dented their consumption among teenage drinkers, but switching to spirits and other products eroded the overall drop in alcohol consumption.
The Canadian province of British Columbia offered a confirmatory real-world test of whether plans in Britain to impose a high minimum price for a unit of alcohol really will reduce consumption, first step in the chain expected to lead to improved public health and productivity and reduced crime.
The Canadian province of Saskatchewan offered a confirmatory real-world test of whether plans in Britain to impose high minimum price for a unit of alcohol really will reduce consumption, first step in the chain expected to lead to improved public health and productivity and reduced crime.
DOCUMENT 2012 HTM file
Alcohol licensing, price and taxation
Traces the stuttering and in some political quarters reluctant progress to accepting a minimum unit price for alcohol in the UK, where Scotland is in the vanguard of that issue and also of licensing law. In all the debates, the benefits drinkers themselves feel they get are rarely valued in to cost-benefit calculations.
The review which led a national US task force to recommend alcohol tax rises as an important public health measure to curb excessive alcohol use and related harms. US and UK politicians remain wary for reasons which can't just be dismissed as populism.
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