Higher Alcohol Prices Urged To Cut Abuse

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Alcohol prices in Canada should be raised to reduce the problems of excessive drinking, policy researchers recommend.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse released three reports report Tuesday on alcohol use, sales and price policies with recommendations to deter risky, excessive drinking and its consequences.

The findings included:

- About 26 per cent of Canadians, or five million people, drink excessively every month.

- The heaviest drinkers in the country, about 20 per cent of the drinking population aged 15 and older, drank about 70 per cent of the alcohol sold in 2004.

- Risky drinking costs $14.6 billion each year, including for health care and policing violence.

Report author Gerald Thomas, senior research and policy analyst with the centre, suggested that governments base alcohol pricing policies on three principles:

- Index alcohol prices to inflation.

- Base prices, including minimum prices, on alcohol content to create incentives for lower strength products and discourage higher strength products.

- Focus on minimum prices to remove the inexpensive sources of alcohol favoured by young adults and other high risk drinkers.

Setting minimum prices per standard drinks for bars and liquor stores could apply universally, the authors suggested.

Targeting regular drinkers alone won’t address all sources of alcohol-related harms since much of the harm comes from the relatively large number of drinkers showing risky drinking only occasionally, Thomas said.

The reports compared pricing policies in six provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Most jurisdictions in Canada incorporate some of the principles, such as increasing prices on fortified wines with higher alcohol content, but none applies all three, according to the pricing report.

Researchers in B.C. looked at changes to the province’s minimum alcohol prices over 20 years, they estimated that a 10 per cent increase in minimum prices reduced consumption of all alcoholic drinks combined by 3.4 per cent.

Elsewhere, the U.K. Home Office said it will introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

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