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Minimum alcohol pricing could reduce alcohol-linked deaths in Canada

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Putting a minimum price on alcohol can reduce the burden on public healthcare systems

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks could substantially reduce hospital stays and deaths related to alcohol, a study in Canada has found.

“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,” says Adam Sherk at the University of Victoria in Canada.

Sherk and his colleagues analysed official data on deaths and hospitalisations related to alcohol in Quebec, Canada, in 2014, as well as information on alcohol sales and pricing in the province, which currently doesn’t have a minimum-unit-pricing policy. They then used modelling to predict the potential effects of two minimum pricing scenarios.

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The researchers found that a minimum unit price of CAN$1.50 (88p) per standard alcoholic drink – defined in Canada as one containing 13.5 grams of ethanol – would result in a 4.4 per cent reduction of alcohol consumption, a 5.9 per cent drop in alcohol-attributable deaths and an 8.4 per cent fall in alcohol-attributable 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-attributable deaths in the province would be cut by 11.5 per cent and hospital stays by 16.3 per cent.

Their findings are consistent with early data from Scotland, which implemented a minimum unit price of 50p per 8 grams of alcohol in 2018. The change has been linked with a reduction in weekly purchases of alcohol in Scotland.

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“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,” says Sherk.

More than 3 million people died globally as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016, according to a 2018 World Health Organization report, which estimated that harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5 per cent of the world’s disease burden.

“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,” says Amie Hayley at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. She says the approach could easily be adopted in regions where alcoholic beverages are already taxed, such as Australia.

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

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