Letter: Price rises can deter serious drinkers

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Sir: It is important to correct one misconception in Hamish McRae's interesting analysis of British drinking habits ('A headache for the drinks industry', 7 April). When the price of alcohol in relation to disposable income rises, this is followed by a decline in consumption with considerable social and public health benefits.

Mr McRae misleads when he suggests that the moderate drinker might be influenced by this rise but not the really heavy drinker. Heavy drinkers reduce their consumption by at least as much as those who drink only occasionally.

For example, an increase in excise duty on alcohol in March 1981 caused the price to increase faster than the retail price index and average disposable income. We surveyed a group of drinkers in Lothian, Scotland, before and after this price rise and found an overall reduction in consumption of 18 per cent. Most significantly, we found a steep reduction in consumption among the heaviest drinkers.

This was associated with a 37 per cent decline in reported harmful consequences of drinking in men and a 41 per cent reduction among women over the same period of time. The heaviest drinkers were not only drinking less but also were experiencing substantially fewer problems.

While the population is drinking less than in Victorian times, consumption per capita has virtually doubled since 1950, which hardly seems grounds for the drinks industry to raise anxieties about the spread of a worldwide temperance influence.

Yours sincerely,


Consultant, Alcohol Problems


Royal Edinburgh Hospital


13 April