Fewer die after minimum alcohol pricing
7th February 2013 - New research from Canada suggests that introducing minimum pricing for alcohol leads to a significant fall in the number of alcohol related deaths.
The Scottish government is trying to introduce setting a minimum price for each unit of alcohol. However, implementation is currently on hold pending a legal challenge. A consultation on minimum pricing is currently underway in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health is today warning that people may be seriously underestimating how much alcohol they drink. It says its research found that the overwhelming majority of those who drink too much mistakenly view themselves as moderate drinkers.
Researchers in British Columbia say their study into the effects of minimum pricing has significant implications for international alcohol policy because the overall drop in deaths was more than expected.
Their investigation, carried out between 2002 and 2009, used three categories of death associated with alcohol: those wholly attributed to drinking, acute and chronic. Rates from these deaths were compared over time with alcohol pricing set by the government.
The researchers faced the problem with the gradual relaxation of British Columbia's alcohol laws. Previously, alcohol could only be sold directly to the public from government owned stores, but it has since begun to be more readily available in shops and private off-licences. They, therefore, had to adjust their findings to take account of the changes.
One-third fall in death rate
However, the researchers estimate that a 10% increase in the price of alcohol is associated with a 31.72% drop in the number of deaths wholly attributed to drinking. They also found significant reductions in acute and chronic deaths over a longer timescale.
The authors suggest that the reason for the fall in the death rate is that increasing the price of cheaper drinks deters the heavy drinker who prefers these drinks.
The study appears in the online edition of Addiction.
Targeting the heaviest drinkers
Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia and a lead author, says in a statement: "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."
The research also found that a 10% rise in the number of private liquor stores was associated with a 2% increase in acute, chronic, and total alcohol associated death rates.
Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern says in a statement: "This is further proof that minimum unit pricing saves lives and the Government must act quickly to introduce it.
"We know that an MUP will cut drink related crime and assualt, ease the burden on our hospitals and protect the young and vulnerable which is why doctors, nurses, ambulance services and police up and down the country want to see it introduced."