It may not be popular with the pub crowd, but bumping up the minimum cost of alcoholic drinks could save lives, according to researchers at the University of Victoria.
Joint research by the University of Victoria, the University of Toronto and the University of Sheffield in the U.K. indicates boosting the average minimum cost for alcohol from about $1.25 per “standard drink” – roughly a can of beer or glass or wine – to $1.50 would improve public safety and government profits.
“We know what impact it’s going to have on probable rates of admission to hospital on alcohol-related injuries and death,” said Tim Stockwell, the study’s principal investigator. “The government (also) collects more revenue and the retailers make more money.”
The research estimates 39 fewer premature deaths, 244 fewer hospital admissions and more than 1,000 fewer crimes committed in B.C. after only one year, in addition to an increase of $2.8 million in provincial and $1.7 million in federal taxes.
The study looked at alcohol-related injuries and deaths, hospital admissions, crime, government revenue and alcohol expenditures for light, moderate and heavy drinkers.
Stockwell, who works with UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research, said their research shows heavy drinkers would be affected most with an increase of more than $200 per year, and moderate drinkers would have an increase of about $11 per year. Light drinkers would have little extra expenditures.
“The bottom line is consumption goes down a little, especially the heavy drinkers, it doesn’t affect light drinkers and moderate drinking doesn’t change much at all,” Stockwell said.
Norman Giesbrecht of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and a co-investigator on the project, said there is enough evidence to show that strong alcohol polices can go a long way to reducing the harm for heavy drinkers.
Implementing changes wouldn’t involve any significant additional training or financing for businesses or inspectors for government, he said.
“Compared to other things, such as changing the system … pricing lends itself administratively to being efficient,” Giesbrecht said. “It is (also) much wider in scope and range than some other measures which would also be important but would be more focused.”
But Giesbrecht cautioned against considering any single solution as a magic bullet to fix alcohol-related problems.
“There are other tools in the pricing area that also need to be considered, the average price should keep pace with the cost of living,” he added.
“The pricing should (also) be linked to the strength of the alcohol. I should not be able to pay the same amount for an eight per cent beer as for a 3.5 per cent beer. It just encourages intoxication.”
While the information is out there, Stockwell said it is up to the public and the politicians to decide what is most important before making an informed decision.
“It depends on one’s priority,” Stockwell said. “Is it for saving lives and preventing people from getting injured? Or is one’s greater priority is on freedom and liberty and people having access to cheap alcohol? We have a democratic society, we are (just) doing (our) bit to put that information out there.”