TUESDAY, Sept. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarette tax hikes and smoke-free policies have not only cut tobacco use in the United States, they may have led to a noticeable drop in alcohol consumption, according to a new study.
Consumption of beer and hard liquor -- but not wine -- declined in states where strict anti-tobacco legislation was enacted over the past three decades, the study found.
"The major finding is that over a 30-year time span increasing cigarette prices and strengthening smoke-free air laws has also reduced alcohol consumption per capita," said study author Melissa Krauss, a senior statistical data analyst at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
"The big message is that some very good state tobacco policies have had public health implications that go beyond what was actually intended," Krauss said.
The study findings appear in the October online edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Smoking among youths dropped in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to rising cigarette prices, according to background information in the study. It's also been shown that for every 10 percent hike in cigarette prices, the number of people who smoke drops by 2 percent, Krauss said. And states such as Missouri that have weak indoor air laws and low cigarette taxes have far more smokers per capita than states with strong restrictions and high taxes, such as New York, she added.
Smokers drink more often and more heavily than nonsmokers, the researchers said. To explore to what degree anti-smoking policies might also affect drinking behavior, the research team first tallied changing alcohol consumption patterns by analyzing state-by-state alcohol sales, tax and shipment data (obtained from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) from 1980 to 2009. It was during this time that many states started implementing cigarette tax hikes alongside smoke-free legislation.
Alcohol trends were then stacked up against state-by-state smoke-free air policy trends and cigarette tax histories.
The researchers found that for every 1 percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes there was a slightly less than 1 percent decrease in the overall per capita consumption of alcohol.
Similarly, for every one-point bump in a state's smoke-free air policy "score" (based on a 6-point scale), investigators found a more than 1 percent drop in overall alcohol consumption.
However, wine consumption wasn't influenced by the no-smoking rules and cigarette tax hikes, the study found. Wine drinkers tend to live healthier lives and are less likely to smoke, Krauss said.
After breaking down the impact by type of alcohol consumed, the research team estimated that a hypothetical 20 percent increase in the price of cigarettes would translate into a 2 percent drop in the consumption of beer.
In the same vein, the study authors theorized that any state that banned smoking in the workplace, restaurants and bars would see beer drinking among both smokers and non-smokers drop by 4 percent compared to having no restrictions. Hard liquor consumption would fall by 11 percent, they predicted.
While the study found an association between anti-smoking policies and reduced drinking, it didn't establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship.
Dr. Norman Edelman, senior consultant for scientific affairs with the American Lung Association, said the study findings "make a whole lot of sense."
"We know that drinking and smoking are closely related behaviors," he said. "So it's not surprising that if you cut one out that you tend to cut the other out."
Edelman, a professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said the effect of smoking reduction is likely to be greatest among heavy drinkers, "which makes this finding pretty important."
For more about the link between smoking and drinking, visit the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.