N8 Science Events: March 30th, 2010.
Putting up prices cuts alcohol consumption
By Helen Gavaghan, Mytholmroyd, UK.
A new study from the University of Sheffield suggests raising alcohol prices would reduce alcohol related deaths and chronic alcohol-related ill health. It posits price hikes would not reduce tax revenue.
Reporting in The Lancet, a specialist newspaper for GPs, the authors found that an across the board 10 per cent price increase would reduce consumption by 4.4 per cent and that that would correlate with 1460 fewer deaths per year 10 years after implementation of the policy. Chronic ill health at all ages would be reduced.
The study's aim was to explore the effectiveness of policies, such as raising alcohol unit price or banning special offers like two for one offers in supermarkets, to reduce alcohol related chronic illness, death and hospital admissions. In 2006/2007 800 000 people were admitted to hospital in alcohol related incidents.
For the team to reach these conclusions Dr Robin Pursehouse built a mathematical model with two halves. One side linked price to consumption and the other side linked (correlated might have been the verb used by N8 Science Events in the original version of this article - see note below) consumption and health impact.
In exploring the theoretical model of price to consumption to health effect the varied price was for a unit of ethanol, the essence of alcohol that is intoxicating and addictive in drinks ranging from premier cru, Puilly Fume to a pint of Thwaites.
Dr Pursehouse was working with known equations describing relationships among price and purchasing. Information about actual sales, purchase and consumption of alcohol were pumped into the model from two different data sources. One from 2005-2008, said Dr Pursehouse, providing aggregates of types of alcohol -- for example gin or beer -- bought by moderate, harmful and hazardous drinkers. The data do not allow the researchers to see who is buying what nor which brands.
The second data set covered 2001 to 2005/06 and was a collection of data of purchases matched to individuals (anonymised for this study), their age and how much they say they drink.
Professor Ian Gilmore from the University of Liverpool, who is president of the Royal College of Physicians, told N8 Science Events that the study covered all the major alcohol related illnesses but he cautioned that there is evidence from other studies suggesting people under report their consumption. He said not all cirrhosis of the liver is caused by alcohol and was unclear how the study had treated alcohol dependency.
Dr Pursehouse told N8 Science Events that the Study did not isolate alcohol dependence - a complex subject -- as a separate condition and that Sheffield would like to continue its alcohol related work and that he thinks larger data sets, both for any given year and for consecutive years, as well as access to morbidity data, are needed as well as models that look at how external events, such as the economic crash of 2008, impact purchasing patterns.
Writing an accompanying commentary in The Lancet Professor Gilmore argued the need for moderate and sensible policies toward alcohol consumption in all cultures.
The study's findings are in line with other international studies.
The peer-reviewed article on which this news report is based was published on line on 24.3.10 at www.theLancet.com.