Drop in alcohol-related deaths by nearly a third follows minimum alcohol price increase of 10 percent

A new study made available online today in ‘Addiction’ shows that, between 2002 and 2009, the percentage of deaths caused by alcohol in British Columbia, Canada dropped more than expected when minimum alcohol price was increased, while alcohol-related deaths increased when more private alcohol stores were opened. The paper has significant implications for international alcohol policy.

The study was carried out by researchers from British Columbia, the westernmost province in Canada, using three categories of death associated with alcohol – wholly alcohol attributable (AA), acute, and chronic*, analysing death rates across the time period against increases in government set minimum prices of alcohol drinks.

The study was complicated by another provincial policy which allowed partial privatisation of alcohol retail sales, resulting in a substantial expansion of alcohol stores. Previously, alcohol could only be sold directly to the public in government owned stores, unlike in Europe where it is widely available in supermarkets, off-licences and petrol stations. The researchers therefore had to both control for the effects of the wider availability of alcohol, and assess what effect this measure had on mortality rates.

The major finding was that increased minimum alcohol prices were associated with immediate, substantial and significant reductions in wholly AA deaths:

  A 10% increase in the average minimum price for all alcoholic beverages was associated with a 32% reduction in wholly AA deaths
  Some of the effect was also detected up to a year after minimum price increases
  Significant reductions in chronic and total AA deaths were detected between two and three years after minimum price increases
  A 10% increase in private liquor stores was associated with a 2% increase in acute, chronic, and total AA mortality rates

This overall drop in deaths was more than expected, and disproportionate to the size of the minimum price increase – a minimum price increase of 1% was associated with a mortality decline of more than 3%.

Alcohol linked to 75,000 U.S. deaths a year

Alcohol abuse kills some 75,000 Americans each year and shortens the lives of these people by an average of 30 years, a U.S. government study suggested Thursday.

Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States after tobacco use and poor eating and exercise habits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the study, estimated that 34,833 people in 2001 died from cirrhosis of the liver, cancer and other diseases linked to drinking too much beer, wine and spirits.

Another 40,933 died from car crashes and other mishaps caused by excessive alcohol use.

Researchers considered any man who averaged more than two drinks per day or more than four drinks per occasion to be an excessive drinker. For women it was more than one drink per day or more than three drinks per occasion.

The authors suggest that the reason for the reduction in mortality is that increasing the price of cheaper drinks reduces the consumption of heavier drinkers who prefer these drinks. They note that other research has also suggested that impacts on some types of mortality may be delayed by one or two years after price increases.

Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia and a lead author, said “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.”

Statistics on alcohol-related deaths are bleak. Every year approximately 75,000 lives will be lost due to alcohol. Countless family and friends left behind will be greatly affected. No one is immune; a chronic alcoholic or an innocent bystander can become a victim. Each death is tragic and often avoidable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol abuse is the third leading “preventable cause” of death in the United States.

  Cirrhosis is a form of liver disease that can be caused by alcohol abuse. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), in 2005 almost 13,000 Americans died from alcohol-related cirrhosis.

  Approximately 39 percent of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2005 over 16,500 individuals lost their lives in alcohol-related accidents.



Jean O’Reilly
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