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Paying More For Alcohol Might Actually Save Lives

By Anna Boyd
14:00, November 14th 2008

It’s no secret that alcohol is no good for our health, as it might increase our risk for liver disease, oral or breast cancers and even alcohol poisoning when drunk in excessive amounts. More and more car accidents happen because alcohol consumption. More and more lives are ruined because the “mind-blowing” effect of alcohol. The latest study on alcohol appears to sustain the idea.

The study funded by the Substance Abuse University of Florida College of Medicine found that raising taxes on beer, wine and liquor immediately reduced the number of deaths from alcohol-related disease. The study was published in the online edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

“The findings are quite astounding. A simple adjustment of the tax rate resulted in a substantial drop in the death rate,” said Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, with the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The study reviewed two separate tax increases on alcoholic beverages in 1983 and 2002 in Alaska and also looked at the number of people who died from alcohol-related diseases in the years following the tax hikes. Alaska was known for a high number of illnesses and deaths due to alcohol. That’s why the state decided to do something about it, and so it became the first state to implement a noticeable tax increase. In 1983, Alaska's tax on beer increased to 63 cents per gallon, compared to 46 cents in 1982, and increased to $1.20 in 2002.

The researchers compiled the number of deaths caused by alcohol, such as alcohol poisoning and alcoholic liver disease, and deaths linked to alcohol, such as cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis. They did not include deaths caused by alcohol-related car accidents or violence. Finally, deaths from Alaska were compared with data from other states to control for nationwide factors, such as population growth and advanced medical care.

The study found that the 1983 tax increase was immediately followed by a 29 percent reduction in deaths (23 deaths averted per year) and the 2002 tax increase reduced the number of deaths by 11 percent (an additional 21 deaths averted per year).

“The bottom line is that when we see an intervention that can reduce the death rate of any chronic disease such as cancer or heart disease by a few percent across the whole population, we consider it an important success. In this case, the death rate for alcohol-related diseases dropped suddenly by at least 11 percent and at minimal cost,” Wagenaar said.

Another study in Finland found similar results when examining the relationship between alcohol taxes and alcohol-positive deaths. The study was published in 2007 in the Addiction journal. Finland had high alcohol taxes for years. However, in March 2004 the government lowered the taxes nearly 33 to 44 percent to protect domestic sales. Consequently, consumption levels in Finland increased 50 percent from the previous year. Also, arrests for drunken and disorderly conduct increased by 11 percent after taxes were lowered. The study also showed that alcohol was the underlying cause of death for 1,860 Finns that year, a 20 percent increase from 2003.

“Taxation has indeed been found to be the most cost-effective measure in reducing alcohol consumption. Raising alcohol tax level has low costs and is effective in reducing alcohol consumption and thus alcohol-related harms,” the study concluded.

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