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Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use

Economics and Public Health Policy

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Alcoholic beverages, and their harmful use, have been familiar fixtures in human societies since the beginning of recorded history. Worldwide, alcohol is a leading cause of ill health and premature mortality. It accounts for 1 in 17 deaths, and for a significant proportion of disabilities, especially in men. In OECD countries, alcohol consumption is about twice the world average. Its social costs are estimated in excess of 1% of GDP in high- and middle-income countries. When it is not the result of addiction, alcohol use is an individual choice, driven by social norms, with strong cultural connotations. This is reflected in unique patterns of social disparity in drinking, showing the well-to-do in some cases more prone to hazardous use of alcohol, and a polarisation of problem-drinking at the two ends of the social spectrum. Certain patterns of drinking have social impacts, which provide a strong economic rationale for governments to influence the use of alcohol through policies aimed at curbing harms, including those occurring to people other than drinkers. Some policy approaches are more effective and efficient than others, depending on their ability to trigger changes in social norms, and on how well they can target the groups that are most at risk. This book provides a detailed examination of trends and social disparities in alcohol consumption. It offers a wide-ranging assessment of the health, social and economic impacts of key policy options for tackling alcohol-related harms in three OECD countries (Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany), extracting relevant policy messages for a broader set of countries.

 

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Benefits of population-wide approaches to prevention: The case of minimum alcohol prices

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol has been placed on the health policy agenda of many countries following the proposal by the Scottish Government to introduce minimum prices in response to the high and rapidly increasing burden of alcohol-related disease in Scotland. The policy also targets aggressive marketing by large supermarket chains that offer alcohol at prices close to or below the cost of the taxes and duty as a loss-leader to attract customers into stores. It is an explicit recognition of the fact that the most effective health promotion policies are those that take population-wide approaches, instead of targeting only those at highest risk (Rose, 1985).

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