Raising price of alcohol may lower violence: study
Josh Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, April 25, 2014 12:09PM EDT
A study published in the United Kingdom shows increasing the price of alcohol may help decrease the number of violent crimes – an approach experts say would be just as effective in Canada.
A 2008 increase in the price of alcohol in Britain and Wales coincided with a reported 12 per cent decrease in the violent crime rate since that time, the study shows. The Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University conducted the U.K. study between 2008 and 2013 and released its findings on the school’s website on Wednesday.
University of Victoria psychology professor Tim Stockwell, director at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC, said the results are credible and could easily translate to this side of the pond.
"There’s well-known links between alcohol use and violence, and it’s consistent with research we've done here in British Columbia," said Stockwell.
Researchers examined violent crime reports from police in Britain and Wales and compared them to rising alcohol prices. They found that as the cost of alcohol went up and the amount of disposable income among 18- to 30-year-olds went down, violence also went down.
Stockwell said the drop in violent crime isn't necessarily because people are being kinder to one another. Alcohol acts as a sort of magnifier for violent behaviour, Stockwell said, and less heavy drinking means fewer arguments escalating into fistfights – or worse.
Statistics show young men between the ages of 18 and 30 are the most common violent offenders, and that same demographic is more prone to drink excessively (more than five drinks a day).
"A lot of violence is public violence involving groups of young men around late-night drinking venues," said Stockwell.
But applying the study's findings to the Canadian system isn't as simple as raising prices across the board. Stockwell said targeted, nuanced price increases are the most effective way to drive consumers toward less harmful drinking habits.
"The evidence is that paying attention to the minimum price of alcohol is particularly important," he said.
Minimum pricing essentially forces alcohol retailers to sell their products at a specified rate. If the price of easy-to-drink beers goes up, people will buy less and drink less.
Stockwell also said drinks should be priced based on how much alcohol is actually in them. That means a can of beer with an 8 per cent alcohol content would cost significantly more than a can of 4.5 per cent beer the same size, thereby driving the consumer to drink the weaker product.
But simply adding a flat tax to all alcohol would only drive consumers to buy cheaper, more powerful drinks, Stockwell said.
Alcohol control falls under the jurisdiction of Canada’s provincial governments, meaning it's handled differently from province to province.
Some provinces already use targeted minimum price increases, but they've been implemented more to drive up revenue than to drive down violent crime, Stockwell said.
Saskatchewan began pricing by alcohol content back in 2010. Results from that price increase showed a significant decline in violent crime, according to a study from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in 2012.
That report made three recommendations to the federal government: tie alcohol prices to inflation, institute minimum alcohol prices for every kind of drink, and price based on alcohol content.
"As the minimum price changes, admissions to hospitals fall, acute problems go down," said Stockwell.