We’ve noticed a rash of articles about alcohol pricing (and taxation, which of course affects the price that people pay), and we thought we’d look into what the hubbub was about - in particular, whether this kind of policy change works.
The short story is: yes. In terms of government policy, some of the most proven techniques to cut back on the health consequences of alcohol are reducing the distribution, restricting the marketing, and increasing the price of alcohol.
Lawmakers in Scotland set a minimum price per unit of alcohol in 2018, and found that led to a 7.6% reduction in alcohol purchases, twice the decrease they expected to see. They saw more reduction in households that typically purchased a lot of alcohol, which is encouraging for the prevention of alcohol use disorders. They also saw a reduction in alcohol-related deaths in Glasgow of over 21%. The results are so strong that a British charity is campaigning to get minimum alcohol pricing rolled out across the country. They’ve also galvanized scientists to start new research regarding the effects of minimum alcohol pricing on the homeless - the potential reduction in alcohol-based harm, and the potential increase in substitution of other drugs beside alcohol.
Alcohol manufacturers in the Philippines saw a similar result with taxation on alcohol, with a 5.1% reduction in drink purchases resulting from a 20% increase in price from 2017-2018.
Alcohol manufacturers aggressively fight policies like these taxes and minimum prices, arguing that they reduce government revenues (a hard argument to make, given the health and other direct costs of alcohol to society far outweigh the direct tax revenue raised by the industry- see our blog post on that topic!) and that such taxes are unfair to the poor (a tough argument to make, considering the clear health harms of alcohol).
The only real problem we see with this solution is a failure to address the underlying causes of the demand for alcohol. After all, if you raise taxes or minimum prices high enough, you’re effectively just banning consumption. And we all know how that turned out in the US during Prohibition. If you don’t address the reasons people drink too much, they will find ways to continue getting that high.
If you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help you address the underlying reasons you drink. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!