Higher alcohol taxes are cost-effective in reducing alcohol harms

August 9, 2018, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Increasing taxes on alcohol is one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing the harms caused by alcohol consumption, according to research in the new issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Restrictions on alcohol advertising and hours of sale are also a "best buy" when it comes to reducing hazardous and harmful alcohol use and, by extension, improving overall health in the population.

"Tax increases may not sound the most attractive of policy options but are the single most cost-effective way of diminishing demand and reining back consumption," says lead researcher Dan Chisholm, Ph.D., of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the study, researchers from the World Health Organization and one of its academic collaborating centers used a statistical model to determine which of five alcohol control strategies could be a cost-effective public health policy to reduce deaths and harms from alcohol consumption. Previous research has indicated that more than 5 percent of deaths worldwide and over 4 percent of diseases are directly related to alcohol.

A 50 percent hike in alcohol excise taxes—that is, taxes worked into the price of the product and that the consumer might not "see"—would cost less than the equivalent of USD$100 for each healthy year of life gained in the overall population and would add 500 healthy years of life for every 1 million people.

To put that tax increase in perspective, it might represent mere pennies per drink. According to a study in the January issue of the journal, state excise taxes in America average only three cents per 12 oz. beer or 5 oz. glass of wine and only five cents for a drink with 1.5 oz. of hard liquor.

"Current rates of excise taxes on alcohol vary considerably between jurisdictions but can be set very low," Chisholm says, "for example because of low awareness of the risks that alcohol consumption can pose to health or because of strong advocacy from economic operators."

But increasing these rates is "an ambitious but feasible strategy," according to the study, and this change in public policy "would bring excise taxes for alcoholic beverages more in line with those imposed on tobacco products."

Restricting hours of operation for off-premise alcohol retailers or implementing and enforcing strong restrictions/bans on alcohol advertising (on the Internet, radio, television, and billboards) each would also cost less than $100 per healthy year of life gained and would add up to 350 years for every 1 million people in the population.

Stronger enforcement of laws by increasing the number of sobriety checkpoints would be a somewhat less cost-effective policy: Their model showed it would cost up to $3,000 per healthy year of life saved and would add fewer than 100 years of healthy life per 1 million people. The higher cost would be the result of more time invested by police and the equipment required at checkpoints.

Chisholm and colleagues found that wider use of brief alcohol-problem screening and intervention performed by primary care doctors would generate up to 1,000 years of healthy life per 1 million people, but at a price of up to $1,434 per year of healthy gained.

The study used data from 16 countries, including upper middle- and high-income countries (such as the United States, Germany, Japan, and China) as well as low- and lower middle-income countries (such as Guatemala, India, Ukraine, and Vietnam).

The report's authors note that they likely underestimated the benefits of improved alcohol control strategies. Their study did not look at effects such as reduced property damage or better productivity at work, among other likely benefits of less overall alcohol consumption in the population.

Nonetheless, not everyone will necessarily think that less alcohol consumption is good policy. "Implementation of these effective public health strategies is actively fought by the , often with threats of lost jobs and/or revenue for countries," the authors write.

In the end, the authors hope their research will "guide decision makers toward a more rational and targeted use of available resources... for addressing the substantial and still growing burden of disease attributable to alcohol use."

Explore further: Alcohol taxes are too low, have not kept up with inflation

More information: Dan Chisholm et al, Are the "Best Buys" for Alcohol Control Still Valid? An Update on the Comparative Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Strategies at the Global Level, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (2018). DOI: 10.15288/jsad.2018.79.514

Related Stories

Alcohol taxes are too low, have not kept up with inflation

December 13, 2017
State alcohol excise taxes are typically only a few cents per drink and have not kept pace with inflation, according to a new study in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Raising those taxes, ...

Renewed calls for sugar, tobacco and alcohol taxes

June 18, 2018
A Massey University professor is among an international group drawn from academia and international agencies, including the World Bank, United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO), calling for taxes on sugar, ...

Research finds counting your drinks reduces alcohol consumption

June 26, 2018
The most effective way for Australians to reduce their alcohol consumption is counting their drinks, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Stronger alcohol policies help reduce alcohol-related crash deaths in US

May 29, 2018
Stronger alcohol policies, including those targeting both excessive drinking and driving while impaired by alcohol, reduce the likelihood of alcohol-related motor vehicle crash deaths, according to a new study from Boston ...

Maryland's 2011 alcohol sales tax reduced alcohol sales, study suggests

April 11, 2016
Maryland's 2011 increase in the alcohol sales tax appears to have led to fewer purchases of beer, wine and liquor in the state, suggesting reduced alcohol use, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research ...

Experts urge review of alcohol consumption guidelines

April 13, 2018
Thresholds for safer alcohol use might need lowering, University of Queensland drug and alcohol experts have cautioned.

Recommended for you

A co-worker's rudeness can affect your sleep—and your partner's, study finds

December 14, 2018
Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Demeaning language. Interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting. Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming increasingly common, and a new study from Portland State University and ...

A holiday gift to primary care doctors: Proof of their time crunch

December 14, 2018
The average primary care doctor needs to work six more hours a day than they already do, in order to make sure their patients get all the preventive and early-detection care they want and deserve, a new study finds.

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.