Can Canadians reduce alcohol-linked deaths with minimum alcohol pricing?

The world is grappling with the ill-effects of alcohol consumption. A 2018 World Health Organization report highlighted that over 3 million people died globally as a result of the abuse of alcohol in 2016. Moreover, shocking statistics further reveal that the harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5 per cent of the world’s disease burden.

Now, researchers have taken it upon themselves to help tackle this growing issue. A study conducted by the University of Victoria in Canada has revealed that minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks has the potential to substantially reduce hospital stays and deaths linked to alcohol.

“Governments in Canada and elsewhere may consider implementing [minimum unit pricing] strategies to improve the health of drinkers and reduce alcohol’s burden on healthcare systems.” Researcher Adam Sherk, University of Victoria

In order to conduct the research, Sherk and his colleagues analysed official data on alcohol related deaths and hospitalizations in Quebec, Canada, in 2014. This was correlated with information regarding alcohol sales and pricing in the province, which currently doesn’t have a minimum-unit-pricing policy per standard alcoholic drink. In Canada, this is defined as a drink which contains 13.5 grams of ethanol.

This information was then subsequently modelled to predict the potential effects of two minimum pricing scenarios:

  1. In the first case, a minimum unit price of CAD $1.50 per standard alcoholic drink corresponded to a 4.4% reduction of alcohol consumption and a 5.9% drop in death attributed to alcohol consumption. It also led to an 8.4% reduction in alcohol-related hospital stays in Quebec.
  2. The second case considered a minimum unit price of CAD $1.75. In such a situation, the researchers predicted an 11.5% reduction in deaths along with a 16.3% drop in alcohol related hospital stays in the province.

The findings of this research are consistent with data from a similar study in Scotland which implemented a minimum unit price of 50p (CAD $.88) per 8 grams of alcohol in 2018. This change also corresponded with a reduction in weekly alcohol purchases in Scotland.

Sherk further adds, “Alcohol policies, such as minimum unit price, have particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, as stronger alcohol policies may help to reduce the high burden on healthcare systems.”

The potential of this study has also been recognized the world over. Researcher Amie Hayley at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia adds, “This projection model indicates that a negligible increase in alcohol unit pricing has the potential to significantly reduce alcohol-attributable injury and death in Quebec. This approach can easily be adopted in regions where alcoholic beverages are already taxed, such as Australia.”

Journal reference: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, DOI: 10.15288/jsad.2020.81.631

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