Raising price of alcohol in one Canadian province led to fall in drinking, finds study

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 13 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7720
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

When the Canadian province of Saskatchewan increased the minimum price of alcohol by 10% in April 2010, consumption of all alcoholic drinks fell by 8.4%, a study shows. Over the same period consumption of alcohol did not change in the neighboring province of Alberta, which does not have minimum prices.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority has a monopoly on the distribution of alcohol and a partial monopoly on the sale of alcohol in liquor stores. The authority’s minimum prices apply to liquor store prices and to the prices at which the authority sells liquor to bar and restaurant owners, thus indirectly affecting prices to consumers in restaurants and bars.

In a few US states the state government is the leading seller of alcohol, as it is in some Nordic countries, but in most of the United States and in the United Kingdom alcohol sales are managed by private businesses.

The Saskatchewan authority’s price increases were calculated according to the amount of alcohol in a standard Canadian drink (17.05 ml of ethanol). Depending on the beverage type and strength, the price increase ranged from $C1.16 ($US1.16; £0.73; €0.91) to $C1.84 per standard drink. Drink prices in Saskatchewan are now among the highest in Canada.

For the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers analyzed data in 26 time periods before and 26 after the price change.1

After the price increase consumption of cocktails fell by 21.3%, coolers (carbonated beverages combining wine and fruit juice) by 13.2%, beer by 10.1%, spirits by 5.9%, liqueurs by 5.3%, and wine by 4.6%.

Higher prices for alcoholic beverages “significantly reduced alcohol consumption while at the same time increasing government revenue,” concluded the researchers, from the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of British Columbia, Victoria, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, and Okanagan Research in Summerland, British Columbia. They added, “The impact was greater for beverages most affected by minimum price increases and for alcohol purchased from liquor stores and was accompanied by a shift in consumer preferences toward lower alcohol content beer, wine, and cocktails.”

The authors say that international evidence showed that reducing alcohol consumption has benefits for public health, safety, and order. Alcohol misuse is the leading contributing cause of deaths among young adults through road crashes, murder, and suicide.

Controlling the price and limiting the availability of alcohol are more effective than public awareness campaigns and alcohol education in schools, several studies have concluded. Cheap alcohol is favored by young adults and other high risk drinkers, the authors say.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7720