Raising alcohol taxes shown to reduce deaths

In collaboration with the Press Association

US scientists have found that raising taxes on beers, wines and spirits can have an immediate lowering effect on the number of deaths from alcohol-related health problems such as liver disease, alcohol poisoning, mouth and breast cancers.

All types of alcohol are known to increase the risk of cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause cirrhosis of the liver, which in turn can lead to liver cancer.

In addition, alcohol can increase the risk of mouth, pharyngeal, oesophageal, breast and bowel cancer.

Researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine analysed the effects of two separate tax increases on alcoholic beverages in 1983 and 2002 in Alaska on the number of alcohol-related diseases.

They found that the higher alcohol taxes had between two and four times greater impact when compared with other prevention efforts, such as school programmes or media campaigns.

The 1983 increase, which saw Alaska's state tax on beer rise from 46 cents to 63 cents per gallon, was immediately followed by a 29 per cent reduction in deaths.

In 2002, the increase in alcohol tax to $1.20 was followed by an 11 per cent reduction in the number of deaths.

The researchers, whose findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health, noted that the beneficial impact of the tax increase on alcohol-related deaths remained over the long term.

Dr Alexander Wagenaar, from the University of Florida College of Medicine, said that the adjustment of the tax rate had resulted in a "substantial drop in the death rate" - an impact he described as "astounding".

"Alaska was cognisant of its alcohol problems and decided do something meaningful," he said.

"We are now benefiting from the results of their unique experiment which shows what other states could gain if they were to implement a similar tax increase."

He continued: "The bottom line is that when we see an intervention that can reduce the death rate of any chronic disease such as cancer or heart disease by a few per cent across the whole population, we consider it an important success."

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