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Increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing its availability and banning alcohol marketing would bring significant health gains for New Zealanders, particularly for Māori, a modelling study from researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington shows.

The modelling looked at the impact of several measures: a 50 per cent increase in the tax on alcohol; reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol from 63 to five outlets per 100,000 people; cutting the number of hours outlets could open from 112 to 50 per week; and banning all forms of alcohol marketing.

The lead modeller on the study, Dr Anja Mizdrak, says the measures were selected based on consultation with stakeholders, including groups concerned over the impact of alcohol use in their communities.

Dr Anja Mizdrak image
Dr Anja Mizdrak, lead modeller.

The results of the study are published in the scientific journal Addiction.

The research team found each of the changes would cut alcohol consumption by between 7.6 and 9 per cent when applied individually and 30 per cent as part of a total package. If all the measures were introduced, it would result in a population-wide increase in health-adjusted life years of 726,000, corresponding to an increase in median life expectancy of 87.6 days.

Dr Mizdrak says drinking alcohol poses a significant risk to health, increasing the risks of many cancers as well as being a major contributor to deaths and injuries in road crashes. In 2016, alcohol consumption was rated fifth for the New Zealand population as a cause of death and disease.

The study found significant health gains could be made if the New Zealand Government followed the recommendations of previous government-led inquiries on alcohol regulations. They include the 2010 New Zealand Law Commission review of the regulations governing the sale and supply of liquor, which recommended raising the alcohol tax by at least 50 per cent. This would translate to price increases of NZ$1.25 on a bottle of wine and NZ$11.32 on a bottle of spirits.

“The measures we have modelled are all ones which have been repeatedly recommended by successive government-led reviews of alcohol regulation. It is past time for the Government to act and implement these evidence-based measures.”

The modelling found that a complete ban on alcohol marketing would lead to an estimated gain of 226,000 health-adjusted life years for the population as a whole. Previous research has found that even a partial marketing ban, such as a ban on sport sponsorship, could reduce alcohol consumption by five per cent, leading to a gain of 123,000 health-adjusted life years.

Dr Mizdrak says reducing the operating hours of off-licence outlets and cutting the number of liquor outlets in communities could also reduce inequities for Māori.

“We know that exposure to alcohol marketing and availability is inequitable and that communities have called for change. Neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of Māori (more than 15 per cent) have 32 per cent more alcohol outlets than neighbourhoods with fewer Māori residents.”

Dr Mizdrak says if the Government makes the recommended changes to alcohol regulation now, it will lead to immediate improvements in health and wellbeing through a reduction in injuries, as well as reducing long-term risk of cancer.

“The health benefits of reducing alcohol use now will continue into the future because of the cumulative impact alcohol consumption has in increasing the risk of developing non-communicable diseases. This makes it even more important for the Government to act now to reduce the harms from alcohol.”

The study was funded by Te Hiringa Hauora Health Promotion Agency, now part of Te Whatu Ora.

Publication details:

The estimated health impact of alcohol interventions in New Zealand: A modelling study is published in the international journal Addiction.

For more information please contact:

Dr Anja Mizdrak
Senior Research Fellow
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington

Cheryl Norrie
Communications Adviser
University of Otago, Wellington
Mobile: +64 21 249 6787

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