Sharp drop in drink deaths follows alcohol price rise

Increasing the minimum price of alcohol by 10 percent can lead to immediate and significant drops in drink-related deaths and may also have long-term beneficial health effects, according to a study published on Thursday.

Canadian researchers found that deaths caused by alcohol between 2002 and 2009 in the western province of British Columbia dropped when the minimum alcohol price was increased, while alcohol-related deaths rose when more private alcohol stores were opened.

The findings will be keenly scrutinized by alcohol policy makers, particularly in Britain where the government plans to introduce a minimum price on alcohol to try to clamp down on binge drinking and anti-social behavior. The United States does not currently set a minimum alcohol price.

“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,” said Tim Stockwell of the University of Victoria’s Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia, who led the study.

John Holmes of the alcohol research group at Britain’s University of Sheffield said Stockwell’s study was a major contribution to evidence about minimum alcohol pricing and gave a “strong indication that the policy has reduced the consumption levels of those drinking at hazardous and harmful levels.”

Stockwell’s team, whose research was published in the journal Addiction, looked at three categories of death linked to alcohol - wholly alcohol attributable, acute, and chronic - analyzing death rates across the time period against increases in government-set minimum prices of alcohol drinks.

Alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom, 2010

  In 2010 there were 8,790 alcohol-related deaths in the UK, 126 more than in 2009 (8,664)

  There are more alcohol-related deaths in males than in females, with 67 per cent of all alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2010 being male

  Alcohol-related death rates were highest for those aged 55-74 and lowest for those aged under 35 over the last ten years

  UK males aged 55-74 years showed a sharp and statistically signficant increase in alcohol-related death rate from 41.8 per 100,000 in 2009 to 45.2 per 100,000 in 2010

  Alcohol-related death rates varied between the regions of England and tended to be highest in the North and lowest in the East of England over the last ten years

  Within England and Wales, alcohol-related death rates are higher in Wales. In 2010 this difference was statistically significant

The study was complicated by another policy in British Columbia under which alcohol sales were partially privatized after having previous been controlled through government-owned stores. This led to a substantial rise in the availability of alcohol.

Stockwell said the major finding was that increased minimum alcohol prices were associated with immediate, substantial and significant reductions in wholly alcohol attributable deaths, with a 10 price rise followed by a 32 percent death rate drop.

Alcohol Related Deaths and Cancer

Deaths from alcohol also result from various forms of cancer that are directly or indirectly caused by chronic alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism. Some of the more conventional forms of cancer that are alcohol-related and that commonly lead to death entail the following:

  Throat cancer
  Cancer of the stomach
  Kidney cancer
  Cancer of the larynx
  Cancer of the rectum
  Liver cancer
  Colon cancer
  Esophagus cancer

Non-Cancerous Alcohol Related Deaths

The following is a list of non-cancerous physical problems, medical conditions, and illnesses that are alcohol-related and that customarily result in the loss of life:

  Alcohol-induced coma
  Ulcers from the perforation of the stomach and the intestines
  Organ and system malfunction
  Kidney failure
  Cardiovascular obstacles like strokes and heart failure
  Brain damage
  Kidney and urinary tract infections
  Cirrhosis of the liver

Significant falls in chronic and total alcohol associated deaths were also detected between two and three years after minimum price increases.

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