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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How does minimum unit pricing for alcohol affect different types of drinkers?

The Scottish Government passed legislation in 2012 to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol. The law states that alcohol should not be sold below a price equivalent to 50 pence (EUR 0.615Exchange rate GBP 1 = EUR 1.23, May 29th 2014.) per unit of alcohol (a unit equals 10 ml of pure alcohol). This has not yet been implemented because a legal challenge is still going through the courts. The Irish Government is also interested in including MUP in its alcohol strategy. The UK Government consulted on MUP but has decided initially to pursue a restriction on below-cost selling – a ban on selling alcohol below a price equivalent to duty plus VAT. As alcohol duties are not levied strictly on alcohol content, this proposal would result in the lowest permitted price varying from 11p or less per unit of alcohol for lower strength still ciders to 42p per unit for higher strength sparkling ciders, with other alcoholic beverages falling between these extremes (Home Office, 2014).

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