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Status Report, Vol. 45, No. 6 | June 19, 2010 Subscribe

Drinking and related problems decline when alcohol costs more

One way to deter the excessive drinking that can lead to crashes is to make purchasing alcohol more expensive. This is the main finding of a review of 72 studies worldwide that evaluated alcohol price and tax approaches to curb binge drinking, underage drinking, and alcohol-impaired driving. On average, the studies indicate that a 10 percent rise in alcohol prices would be expected to result in a drop of 3 to 10 percent in alcohol consumption along with problems associated with excessive drinking. Studies found a similar effect on deaths and injuries in alcohol-related crashes.

The Task Force on Community Preventive Services, made up of U.S. public health and prevention experts appointed by the Centers for Disease Control, conducted the review of papers published before July 2005 with support from both the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The task force recommends the best practices for public health interventions.

Nearly all of the 72 studies found an inverse relationship between the tax or price of alcohol and indices of excessive drinking or alcohol-related problems, including crashes. Results were consistent among alcohol types — wine, beer, and liquor — and across countries, time periods, and study designs. Studies that looked at underage drinkers also found convincing evidence that increasing the cost of alcohol reduces consumption and problem drinking. More research is needed to determine the benefits of increasing taxes on all alcohol at once compared with selectively raising taxes on specific beverages, the task force states.

Prior studies by the group found strong evidence that ignition interlocks, sobriety checkpoints, and the legal drinking age of 21 are effective interventions to combat alcohol-impaired driving.

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