Despite its negative effects on health, many people around the world consume alcohol regularly and at risky levels. As a consequence, alcohol is among the leading risk factors for premature death.
In order to lower the negative health effects caused by alcohol, alcohol control policies play a key role. Such policies include charging taxes on alcoholic beverages (i.e., alcohol taxation), imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol (i.e., minimum unit price, MUP), or restricting the hours of sales of alcoholic beverages. While we already know that these alcohol control policies are effective in lowering alcohol consumption and the health risks associated with alcohol intake, we do not yet know whether everyone will benefit equally.
In our recent research, we have looked at the evidence on these policies with the aim of evaluating their potential impact on alcohol consumption in the general population and in population subgroups, such as men and women or those with high or low incomes.
What is the overall impact of alcohol control policies on alcohol consumption?
In order to answer our research question, we have searched and summarised the evidence from research reports published since 2000, that have evaluated the implementation of alcohol control policies around the world.
Based on the identified literature, that is, 36 research reports, we found alcohol taxation and MUPs to be the most effective policies in reducing alcohol consumption.
We estimated that doubling alcohol taxes or introducing a MUP of 50p (€0.55) per UK unit alcohol reduces alcohol consumption by 10% on average. One UK unit is equivalent to 8 grams of pure alcohol, which is roughly the amount of alcohol contained in half a pint of beer or half a glass of wine.
Banning alcohol sales on one additional day a week, such as on Saturdays or Sundays, also lowers alcohol consumption but to a lesser extent than alcohol taxation or MUP.
Does everyone benefit equally from alcohol control policies?
So far, it is hard to say whether everyone will benefit equally from the aforementioned decline in alcohol consumption when strengthening alcohol control policies.
In our literature review, we identified only nine research reports that have previously addressed this question. Based on this evidence, it appears that the impact of alcohol control policies varies across population subgroups. For example, we found that alcohol taxation and MUP may result in larger reductions in alcohol consumption among people with low incomes, as compared to those with high incomes. As the risk for adverse health conditions decreases with decreasing alcohol consumption, we may assume that the health benefits would also be greater in people with low incomes.
For other population subgroups, however, the evidence of such differential effectiveness in our review was inconclusive, such as for men and women, or for groups of different education or occupation.
What is the impact of our research?
Our review demonstrates the effectiveness of alcohol control policies in reducing alcohol consumption. In doing so, it highlights that high levels of alcohol consumption and related health consequences do not have to be tolerated, but can be effectively tackled through implementing evidence-informed alcohol control policies.
At the same time, it shows that there is more research needed to uncover differences across population subgroups, which is of high importance for developing policies that promote health equity.
Written by Dr Carolin Kilian, Institute of Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.
Declaration of interest:
- Dr William C. Kerr has received funding and travel support from the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association (NABCA). Dr William C. Kerr has been paid as an expert witness regarding cases on alcohol policy issues retained by the Attorney General’s Offices of the US states of Indiana and Illinois under arrangements where half of the cost was paid by organizations representing wine and spirits distributors in those states.
- Julia M. Lemp has received a PhD stipend from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation.
- Dr Aurélie Lasserre has received an Early Postdoc.Mobility funding (number P2LAP3 191273) from the Swiss National Science Foundation.