Professor Wayne Hall, NHMRC Australia Fellow at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, has been examining some new figures on alcohol consumption.
While it looks like the alcopops tax has had an impact, there is also evidence that overall, per capita consumption of alcohol has been rising.
“The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released data on the estimated per capita alcohol consumption in Australia over the period 2004-5 to 2008-9.
These data show that the alcopops tax has reduced the consumption of ready to drink (RTD) or premixed spirits (“alcopops”). This is what the public health community suspected had happened, given the loud squealing from the spirits industry asserting the contrary.
This is notably the first drop in per capita alcohol consumption in Australia in the 5 year period over which the ABS reports these data. Until 2008-2009 alcohol consumption per capita increased.
The drop in consumption was confined to that of RTDs. Beer and spirit consumption increased but not by enough to offset the decrease in RTD consumption so the overall effect was a decline in per capita consumption. The fact that there was no across the board reduction in alcohol use indicates that the overall decline cannot be attributed to the global financial crisis.
The other noteworthy finding was that per capita alcohol consumption increased in Australia between 2004-5 and 2007-8. Until now the ABS has reported that per capita consumption has been stable, a finding that the alcohol industry has used to argue that change in tax policy is not required.
After the ABS adjusted its estimate of the average alcohol content of wine to properly reflect the fact that it has increased in the past decade or more, it became clear that per capita consumption in Australia has steadily increased.
Two questions are impossible to answer from these data: Has the decline in RTD sales reduced binge drinking among young adults? If so, is the reduction large enough to make a difference to alcohol-related harm among young adults?
The probable answer to the first question is “yes” because household surveys indicate that younger drinkers are the heaviest consumers of RTDs and younger people are generally more sensitive to price than older drinkers.
But more definitive answers to both questions will be provided by research on alcohol-related injuries among young adults that is currently underway around the country.”