The review which led a national US task force to recommend alcohol tax rises as an important public health measure to curb excessive alcohol use and related harms. US and UK politicians remain wary for reasons which can’t just be dismissed as populism.
This systematic review of alcohol tax policy interventions for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms was conducted for the Guide to Community Preventive Services according to the Guide’s rigorous common template. The Guide is maintained by the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which appoints a task force of independent public health and prevention experts to oversee the reviews and make recommendations (these are the ones based on the featured review) to promote the health of the US population based not just on effectiveness, but also other potential benefits and harms and real-world applicability.
Given evidence that alcohol taxes feed through to retail prices, the review included studies not just of tax levels, but also the impact of price, with the provisos that the study was of an acceptable quality, published in English, and conducted in a high-income economy. 73 research papers met the review’s criteria. Most related prices or taxes to a society’s total alcohol consumption; on the basis of clearly established links between consumption, excessive drinking, and harmful consequences, these studies were considered relevant to the review’s remit. Remaining studies assessed relationships with excessive or under-age drinking or alcohol-related harm, most commonly traffic accidents. Some studies were of tax/price rises, others of cuts, and others still of different levels in different jurisdictions. Regardless of the design of the study, nearly all found that higher alcohol taxes or prices were associated with falls in indices of excessive drinking or alcohol-related illness or injury.
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