Flaws in Alcohol Control Policies

August 5, 2014

Many governments have imposed new taxes and restrictions on advertising and licensing in order to reduce heavy drinking. But in a new report for the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs, John C. Duffy and Christopher Snowdon explain why these policies hurt moderate drinkers while having no impact on excessive consumers of alcohol.

Such policies -- a "Total Consumption Model" -- are an attempt to cut down on per capita alcohol consumption. Those in support of the model see that places with high per capita alcohol consumption also have a high proportion of heavy drinkers, concluding that reducing per capita consumption will reduce alcohol-related harm.  

But Duffy and Snowdon explain that heavy drinking is not the product of high per capita alcohol consumption, rather the opposite: per capita alcohol consumption depends upon how much heavy drinking exists in a population. In fact:

  • In the U.K., more than 40 percent of alcohol is consumed by 10 percent of the British population.
  • Almost 70 percent of the alcohol is consumed by 20 percent of the population.

As such, the authors explain that government policies that reduce per capita consumption are in no way guaranteed to reduce excessive drinking or alcohol-related problems. Instead, these policies merely restrict alcohol consumption by moderate drinkers, who are more sensitive to prices than heavy drinkers. Rising alcohol prices do not, on the other hand, affect heavy drinkers nearly as significantly.

Reducing overall consumption is no guarantee that heavy drinking will fall, conclude Duffy and Snowdon. Government alcohol policy would be much more effective if it targeted excessive drinkers and offered help to alcoholics, rather than the population at large.

Source: John C. Duffy and Christopher Snowdon, "Punishing the Majority: The problems with alcohol policy in the UK," Institute of Economic Affairs, June 15, 2014.

 

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