Raising Alcohol Price Might Reduce Some Health Inequalities

Dr John Holmes PhD, MA, BA (Hons) (York) Section of Public Health, ScHARR, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DA, UKMedicalResearch.com with:
Dr John Holmes PhD, MA, BA (Hons) (York)
Section of Public Health, ScHARR,
University of Sheffield,
Sheffield S1 4DA, UK

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Holmes: The study aimed to examine which groups in society would be affected by a 45p minimum unit price for alcohol.  This was in response to concerns expressed by, among others, the UK Government that the policy may not tackle harmful drinking and may penalise responsible drinkers.

We found no support for these concerns.  As the policy targets the cheap alcohol which is disproportionately purchased by those drinking at harmful levels, the effects are mainly felt by those at greatest risk of suffering harm from their drinking.  On the other hand, moderate drinkers, including those on low incomes, buy very little of this cheap alcohol so are relatively unaffected.
The group most affected are harmful drinkers with low incomes and this is the group at greatest risk of harm from their drinking.  The big health gains which would be seen in this low income, heavy drinking group would contribute to the reduction of health inequalities.

Overall, the policy is estimated to reduce alcohol-related deaths by 860 per year and hospital admissions by 29,900 per year.  Around three-quarters of consumption reductions would be experienced by harmful drinkers while the majority of health benefits would be gained by lower income groups.

MedicalResearch.com; Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Holmes: The findings were not unexpected as they follow logically from what we know about which groups drink the alcohol affected by the policy.  Because heavier drinkers tend to pay less for their alcohol, they are affected most by the policy.

The results are also in line with a large body of international evidence, including evaluations of minimum price increases in Canada, which show that increased alcohol prices lead to falls in consumption and, more importantly, falls in deaths, hospital admissions and crime associated with heavy drinking.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Holmes: Our results suggest that introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol would be an effective and well-targeted approach to tackling the harm caused by alcohol.  It is not a silver bullet and other policies are also needed (such as treatment for dependent drinkers), but we find that minimum pricing could contribute substantially to reducing the burden of harm from alcohol and also reducing health inequalities.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for research as a result of this study?

Dr. Holmes: The key research need is the opportunity to evaluate this policy in the UK – our research is based on linking together existing evidence on how who buys what, how consumers respond to price changes and how changes in consumption levels change risks from drinking.  However, to understand further the effects of minimum unit pricing, we need further evaluations of implemented policies to support those undertaken already in Canada.


Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study

Published online The Lancet  February 10, 2014 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62417-41

John Holmes, Yang Meng, Petra S Meier, Alan Brennan, Colin Angus, Alexia Campbell-Burton, Yelan Guo, Daniel Hill-McManus, Robin C Purshous