AUSTRALIAN experts are urging the government to consider the introduction of a volumetric alcohol tax or a tax on alcohol promotion in light of research showing the nation is in the grip of a serious alcohol problem.

The survey of almost 9000 adults, conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales, found 3% of subjects across the country had abused alcohol over the past year and 1.4% of these were alcohol dependent.

Eighteen per cent of those surveyed had abused alcohol at some point in their life and 3% either were currently, or had been, addicted. The findings were published in the journal Addiction.

Associate Professor Christopher Doran, health economist at NDARC, said the Federal government’s 2009 national preventative health taskforce report and the recent Henry Review of the Australian taxation system both advocated the introduction of a volumetric tax that would raise revenue at the same time as improving health.

Research by NDARC and the World Health Organization showed alcohol taxation was the most cost-effective strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm because it reduced distortions in alcohol pricing, he said.

“Those distortions provide opportunities for companies to target products that have a low taxation base, which means they can earn more money.”

Professor Doran said a volumetric tax would encourage the wine industry to promote lower alcohol drinks.

“Consumers who want to consume high-alcohol beverages will pay for it,” he said.

The recently introduced alcopops tax was only a band-aid solution, he said, because although it curbed the use of spirit-based ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs), recent evidence suggested there had been a significant increase in the consumption of wine-based RTDs.

Professor Gavin Mooney, Honorary Professor of Public Health at Sydney University, said he favoured a tax on the marketing and advertising budgets of alcohol beverage producers, which would mean promotion of lighter beers and wines would be less expensive than for stronger drinks.

Although a volumetric tax would almost certainly reduce consumption, it would hit the consumer and could lead to more poverty, he said.

The benefits of alcohol taxation were highlighted by a United States study showing that increased alcohol taxation led to a reduction in mortality associated with chronic heavy alcohol use.

The results, published online this month in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (1), found a 10% rise in alcohol taxes in Florida led to a 2.2% decline in mortality.

(1) Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2010; 34. DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01280.x.

Posted 16 August, 2010

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