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Drop in alcohol-related deaths by nearly a third follows minimum alcohol price increase of 10% image

Drop in alcohol-related deaths by nearly a third follows minimum alcohol price increase of 10%

A new study made available online today in ‘Addiction’ shows that, between 2002 and 2009, the percentage of deaths caused by alcohol in British Columbia, Canadadropped more than expected whenminimum alcohol price was increased, while alcohol-related deaths increasedwhen more private alcohol stores were opened. The paper has significant implications for international alcohol policy.

The study was carried out by researchers from British Columbia, the westernmost province in Canada, using three categories of death associated with alcohol – wholly alcohol attributable (AA), acute, and chronic*, analysing death rates across the time period against increases in government set minimum prices of alcohol drinks. 

The study was complicated by another provincial policy which allowed partial privatisation of alcohol retail sales, resulting in a substantial expansion of alcohol stores.  Previously, alcohol could only be sold directly to the public in government owned stores, unlike in Europe where it is widely available in supermarkets, off-licences and petrol stations.  The researchers therefore had to both control for the effects of the wider availability of alcohol, and assess what effect this measure had on mortality rates.

The major finding was that increased minimum alcohol prices were associated with immediate, substantial and significant reductions in wholly AA deaths:

  • A 10% increase in the average minimum price for all alcoholic beverages was associated with a 32% reduction in wholly AA deaths
  • Some of the effect was also detected up to a year after minimum price increases
  • Significant reductions in chronic and total AA deaths were detected between two and three years after minimum price increases
  • A 10% increase in private liquor stores was associated with a 2% increase in acute, chronic, and total AA mortality rates

This overall drop in deaths was more than expected, and disproportionate to the size of the minimum price increase – a minimum price increase of 1% was associated with a mortality decline of more than 3%.

The authors suggest that the reason for the reduction in mortality is that increasing the price of cheaper drinks reduces the consumption of heavier drinkers who prefer these drinks. They note that other research has also suggested that impacts on some types of mortality may be delayed by one or two years after price increases.

Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia and a lead author, said “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. It is hard otherwise to explain the significant changes in alcohol-related deaths observed in British Columbia.”

Notes to Editors

For further information and interviews with the study team, please contact Emma Carter (Centre for Addictions Research, University of Victoria) on +1 250 472 5445 or the principal investigator Dr Tim Stockwell at the University of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada (email timstock@uvic.ca or phone +1 250 415 7376) or co-author Dr Bill Ponicki, Scientist, Prevention Research Center, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, California, USA (email bponicki@PREV.org, phone +1 510 883-5713).

For a full text copy of this article, please contact Jean O’Reilly, Editorial Manager, Addiction, jean@addictionjournal.org, tel +44 (0)20 7848 0853 or Gill Rangel, Journal Manager, Addiction, gill@addictionjournal.org, tel +44 (0)20 7848 0452.

Zhao J, Stockwell T, Martin G, Macdonald S, Vallance K, Treno A, Ponicki W, Tu A, and Buxton J. (2013) The relationship between changes to minimum alcohol prices, outlet densities and alcohol attributable deaths in British Columbia in 2002-2009. Addiction, 108: doi:  10.1111/add.12139

* Wholly alcohol attributable deaths included the following: poisonings due to alcohol, alcoholic psychoses, alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, alcoholic gastritis, chronic pancreatitis (alcohol induced), fetal alcohol syndrome and excess alcohol blood level; acute alcohol attributable deaths comprised mainly injuries whether caused intentionally or unintentionally while chronic alcohol attributable deaths were those caused by alcohol-related illnesses such as liver cirrhosis and various cancers (e.g. cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, colon and breast). These types of diagnosis were determined from the underlying cause of death identified on the death certificates.

Addiction (www.addictionjournal.org) is a monthly international scientific journal publishing peer-reviewed research reports on alcohol, illicit drugs, tobacco, and gambling as well as editorials and other debate pieces. Owned by the Society for the Study of Addiction, it has been in continuous publication since 1884. Addiction is the number one journal in the 2011 ISI Journal Citation Reports Ranking in the Substance Abuse Category (Social Science Edition).  Membership to the Society for the Study of Addiction (http://www.addiction-ssa.org/) is £85 and includes an annual subscription to Addiction.