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New research shows minimum pricing can reduce alcohol harm

Consumers tend to switch to less potent alcoholic beverages when minimum prices are raised for cheap, strong drinks, according to new research from the Centre for Addictions Research of BC [CARBC] in Canada. The report – released today in the American Journal of Public Health – also indicates the measure successfully reduces the consumption of ethanol, the harmful ingredient of alcoholic drinks, and so lowers the risk of harmful health effects.

Looking at sales data from both before and after minimum pricing legislation was introduced in Saskatchewan, the study found consumption of higher strength beers and wines decreased the most; a 10% increase in the price of cheap high strength beer resulted in a 22% fall in consumption, compared with an 8.17% fall for beer with lower alcohol content. Overall, a 10% increase in minimum prices brought an 8.43% decrease in consumption.

“We know minimum pricing of alcohol works to reduce consumption. This study tells how to implement the policy most effectively,” said Dr. Tim Stockwell, CARBC director and lead author of the report, adding that encouraging all drinkers to shift to lower alcohol-content products will have additional, more widespread benefits.

The results of this study will come as good news for both UK and Scottish Governments, who are looking to implement minimum unit pricing as part of a drive to improve health and social outcomes. The Scottish Government currently face opposition from the Scotch Whiskey Association, who object to the policy on EU trade grounds.

Katherine Brown, Director of Policy at the UK Institute of Alcohol Studies said:

“It is widely accepted that raising the price of alcohol reduces levels of health and social harm, however minimum pricing is a relatively innovative mechanism which enables governments to target the strongest, cheapest drinks that cause the most problems in society.

“This targeted effect cannot be achieved through traditional taxation methods because of EU tax rules, so evidence to show the effectiveness of minimum pricing in practice means we can confidently look to this policy solution to help turn the tide against alcohol harm in the UK.”

The research is part of an international collaborative program led by CARBC at the University of Victoria, along with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, and the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

The findings of the report, titled 'The Raising of Minimum Alcohol Prices in Saskatchewan, Canada: Impacts on Consumption and implications for Public Health', are available online at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2012.301094.