Increasing alcohol prices has been proven to be ineffective in reducing consumption among those at risk of harms, with those who drink at the highest levels also the least likely to reduce their consumption when prices go up.

Responding to a study released overnight by Deakin Health Economics, Alcohol Beverages Australia Executive Director Fergus Taylor said Australians already pay among the highest alcohol taxes in the world and the study’s calls for increased taxes overlooked the wealth of evidence which shows these measures don’t reduce consumption among heavy drinkers, who are most likely to be at risk of obesity.

“A big new tax on alcohol will punish responsible drinkers but it won’t work to deter those at risk of obesity,” Mr Taylor said.

“If you drink moderately, like 80 percent of Australian drinkers, alcohol shouldn’t cause you any weight problems and you don’t deserve to be hit with big tax hikes. The risk of obesity can increase for very heavy drinkers, so this is where targeted solutions ought to be directed.

“The study itself acknowledged the strength of evidence was low with a ‘Low certainty of the effect of reductions in alcohol consumption on Body Mass Index / body weight outcomes due to absence of relevant studies.’”

A recent study in the European Journal of Health Economics found when prices increased, heavy drinkers were most likely to continue drinking at the same levels they did previously, albeit choosing a lesser quality product.

“The people most likely to reduce their consumption in response to population-wide measure such as tax increases are moderate drinkers who aren’t exposing themselves to alcohol-related harm and are not deemed to be at risk of obesity,” Mr Taylor said.

“Scotland introduced minimum pricing in May and there have been reports since its implementation showing overall consumption has increased and some of the largest increases have been at the cheaper end of the market.

“People who are drinking harmful levels of alcohol are unlikely to be deterred by higher prices and will instead go to great lengths to obtain alcohol when population-wide measures such as price increases and bans are imposed.

“Those people represent a very small part of the population and we should be implementing targeted solutions which promote education, intervention and ongoing support for them.

“More than 80 percent of Australians who drink, do so drink responsibly, within the recommended guidelines and they should not be impacted by policies designed to address harms among problem drinkers.”