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Minimum Pricing works in Canada

The minimum prices set by the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch have helped curb drinking in the province, researchers from the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) have concluded.

The research report ‘Does minimum pricing reduce alcohol consumption? The experience of a Canadian province’, published in the international journal ‘Addiction’, is the first to examine the effectiveness of setting minimum prices as a means of curbing alcohol consumption.

In a study based on 20 years of data on sales and liquor prices, the University of Victoria team found a 10% increase in minimum prices of all alcoholic drinks led to a 3.4% reduction in consumption. And because heavy drinkers favour cheaper alcohol, the findings have important health implications, said Tim Stockwell, CARBC Director.

“This is significant information for policies to prevent the substantial toll of death, injury and illness associated with hazardous alcohol use,” says Stockwell. “Our results support having a standard minimum price per standard drink for all alcoholic beverages as a cornerstone of alcohol problem prevention.”

“Further research will assess which drinkers and which alcohol-caused harms respond most to minimum prices,” added Chris Auld, a co-author in the study, “yet our initial results suggest minimum pricing effectively reduces drinking. Higher minimum prices may also permit lower taxes on higher priced drinks without increasing associated harms.”

In practice, British Columbia has allowed minimum prices of beer, wine and coolers to go down over time and only the minimum prices for spirits have kept pace with inflation. “If minimum prices were today what they were in 1987, alcohol consumption would be about 4% lower than it is now,” noted Auld.

Minimum prices in British Columbia vary by alcohol type. Current pricing rules mean that, for example, one 341 ml bottle of beer with 8% alcohol content may not be sold for less than $1.21 in a government liquor store—or 75 cents for one Canadian standard drink.

The study is the first report from a program of research funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) being conducted by an international consortium led by Stockwell with collaborators at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario; the Alcohol Research Group, California; and the School of Public Health, University of Sheffield, UK.

Forthcoming papers from this CIHR-funded program will focus on the impacts of minimum pricing in several Canadian provinces on both consumption patterns and levels of alcohol-related harm.

Minimum Pricing is available at the Addiction website: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/