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Friday, June 13, 2008

Taxes, stricter alcohol limits could help cut cost of alcohol abuse: report

(CBC) - Alcohol abuse costs every Canadian $463 a year, a new study finds, but could be cut if Ottawa lowered consumption by increasing liquor taxes and lowering blood-alcohol limits, among other policy changes.

The Avoidable Cost of Alcohol Abuse in Canada 2002 report released Wednesday by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto finds that health-care costs related to alcohol abuse are actually higher than those for cancer.

It proposes six interventions that it says would save 800 lives and approximately $1 billion per year, almost 26,000 years of life lost to premature alcohol-related deaths and more than 88,000 days of acute care in hospital annually.

The biggest savings would come from lowering productivity losses due to alcohol abuse by $561 million, decreasing health-care costs by $230 million and reducing crime-related costs by $178 million.

The six proposed interventions include:

- Increasing taxes on alcohol.

- Lowering the blood alcohol concentration legal limit from 0.08 per cent to 0.05 per cent.

- Implementing a zero tolerance policy on blood alcohol concentration levels for drivers under the age of 21.

- Increasing the minimum legal drinking age from 19 to 21 years.

- Making bars safer for patrons by policing intoxication and underage drinking more rigorously.

- Instituting counselling sessions with at-risk drinkers in doctors' offices.

In terms of taxation, the study used a hypothetical tax increase of 25 per cent, with price increases for beer of 1.7 per cent, 6.8 per cent for spirits and 7.5 per cent for wine. The report predicts that this increased pricing would reduce alcohol consumption by 4.1 per cent.

"It's clear that the largest impact would come from interventions affecting the level of drinking in general such as brief interventions and increasing alcohol taxation," said CAMH senior scientist Dr. Jrgen Rehm, in a news release.

"However, the greatest overall cost avoidance would be achieved when multiple rather than single ... alcohol interventions are implemented as part of a comprehensive alcohol policy."

The study also warns that privatizing the alcohol distribution system would lead to an increase in costs related to alcohol abuse as the availability of alcohol would rise, leading to an increase in consumption of 10 per cent.

It also states that through privatization, productivity losses would increase by more than $468 million, health care costs would grow by over $258 million and criminality costs would rise by $102 million.

The report based its projections on the findings and methodology of several past studies, most notably Health Canada's International Guidelines for the Estimation of the Avoidable Costs of Substance Abuse conducted in 2006.



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