Beer in the supermarket

Minimum prices for alcohol could reduce alcohol-related deaths in Canada

By Layal Liverpool

Setting a minimum price for alcohol can reduce the burden on public health systems

Steve Russell / Toronto Star via Getty Images

According to a study in Canada, minimum prices for alcoholic beverages could significantly reduce hospital stays and alcohol-related deaths.

"Governments in Canada and elsewhere may consider implementing strategies (minimum unit prices) to improve the health of drinkers and reduce the burden on health systems from alcohol," said Adam Sherk of the University of Victoria, Canada.

In 2014, Sherk and colleagues analyzed official data on alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations in Quebec, Canada, as well as information on alcohol sales and prices in the province that currently has no reserve price policy. They then used the modeling to predict the potential impact of two minimum price scenarios.

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The researchers found that a minimum unit price of CAN $ 1.50 (88 pence) for a standard alcoholic beverage – defined in Canada as a beverage containing 13.5 grams of ethanol – resulted in a 4.4 percent reduction in alcohol consumption and a decrease in alcohol consumption by 5.9 percent. attributable deaths and an 8.4 percent decrease in alcohol-related hospital stays in Quebec.

In another scenario, with a minimum unit price of CAN $ 1.75 (£ 1.03), Sherk and his team predicted that alcohol-related deaths in the province would be reduced by 11.5 percent and hospital stays by 16.3 percent.

Their results are in line with early data from Scotland, which introduced a minimum unit price of 50p per 8 grams of alcohol in 2018. The change was linked to a reduction in weekly alcohol purchases in Scotland.

"Alcohol policies like the minimum unit price are of particular importance during the Covid-19 pandemic, as stronger alcohol policies can help reduce the heavy burden on health systems," says Sherk.

According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization that estimated that harmful alcohol consumption was responsible for more than 5 percent of the global burden of disease, more than 3 million people worldwide died as a result of harmful alcohol consumption in 2016.

"This projection model shows that a negligible increase in unit alcohol prices has the potential to significantly reduce alcohol-related injuries and deaths in Quebec," said Amie Hayley of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. She says the approach could easily be applied 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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