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Uneven Effects for Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol

Moderate drinkers little affected by pricing, with greatest effects seen for harmful drinkers

MONDAY, Feb. 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A minimum unit price for alcohol is estimated to have the greatest impact on harmful drinkers, especially those on low incomes, according to a study published online Feb. 10 in The Lancet.

John Holmes, Ph.D., from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, and colleagues examined the effect of a £0.45 minimum unit price in England using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model. Price elasticities were estimated from nine years of survey data. The effects of the policy were assessed on moderate, hazardous, and harmful drinkers.

The researchers found that, in the model, a minimum unit price of £0.45 led to an immediate 1.6 percent reduction in consumption. In terms of consumption and spending, moderate drinkers were least affected. Harmful drinkers experienced the greatest behavioral changes, with a −3.7 percent change in consumption per drinker per year (−7.6 percent for in lowest income quintile versus −1 percent in highest income quintile) and a decrease in spending of £4.01 (decrease of £34.63 and increase of £16.35, respectively). The estimated health benefits of the policy were unevenly distributed, with 81.8 percent of reductions in premature deaths and 87.1 percent of gains in quality-adjusted life years for individuals in the lowest socioeconomic group.

"Because harmful drinkers on low incomes purchase more alcohol at less than the minimum unit price threshold compared with other groups, they would be affected most by this policy," the authors write.

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