The distilled spirits industry is strongly opposed to abusive alcohol consumption and has long supported evidence-based policiesin partnership with governments and other stakeholders in these effortsto reduce harmful use of alcohol in the United States and abroad.
OECD’s new Report, “Tackling the harmful use of alcohol – Economics and public health policies,” focuses useful attention on the harmful use of alcohol.
Importantly, it repeatedly notes the effectiveness of brief interventions in primary care settings, early education and tough enforcement, all of which the distilled spirits industry supports.
Unfortunately, the Report is tarnished by its use of a flawed model. This model was based on assumptions that have not been tested by the scientific community and was heavily criticized bythe National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the lead U.S. federal agency on alcohol and health.
Even OECD noted in its Report that the simulation model used in its analysis requires “assumptions and have to rely on a variety of input data, some of which may be of limited quality.”
For example, OECD’s recommendation of a 10 percent increase in prices through increased taxation is badly flawed. In fact, numerous studies, including NIAAA funded research, show that raising the price does not deter heavy alcohol abusers. Rather, it is the moderate consumer who cuts back the most when prices are increased. Additionally, raising taxes invariably leads to an increase in illegal and potentially poisonous illicit alcohol in some countries.
OECD’s misdirected emphasis on a population-based strategy like raising taxes rather than focusing on reductions in harmful use is misguided and derails resources from evidence-based interventions. For example, in the United States underage drinking and drunk driving rates have reached historic lows through tough law enforcement, education and targeted interventions.
According to the NIAAA, “Most adults who drink alcohol drink in moderation and are at low risk for developing problems related to their drinking.”
Furthermore, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death among women and men in the United States and the western world. In fact, a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited moderate alcohol consumption as one of four key healthy lifestyle behaviors.
To the extent that moderate consumers would be most affected by this heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all approach, those benefits could be lost.