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Dr Peter Saunders

Thirst for life – raising alcohol prices to save lives

Dr Peter Saunders was, until December 2018, the Chief Executive of CMF. Prior to that he was a general surgeon in New Zealand, Kenya and the UK. He is now the CEO of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA), a global movement uniting national Christian medical and dental organisations in over 60 countries,
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

A study released today by the Center for Addictions Research of British Colombia has found that a 10% increase in minimum per unit pricing of alcohol has led to a 32% drop in alcohol related mortality in two Canadian Provinces.  Furthermore, the increase in price seems to have reduced alcohol consumption (and related health problems) even among heavy drinkers.

The main opposition to per unit pricing of alcohol has always been that the heaviest drinkers won’t change their behaviour over price alone, and that there is no real evidence that pricing works in terms of health outcomes.  This study is one of a growing body strongly suggesting otherwise.  I suspect, with increasing pushes from police, health services and professionals, and the churches for minimum per unit alcohol pricing, it is only the alcohol industry itself that is really holding out against this policy.

It has certainly been something that CMF has supported in the past.  Alcohol is one of the most potentially damaging drugs known, and it is freely available.  Churches have seen the sharp end of what happens, especially in poorer communities where alcohol abuse is widespread; hence there is a long history of Christians campaigning against the damaging and pervasive influence of alcohol in society – from the eighteenth and nineteenth century temperance movements to more modern work in alcohol rehabilitation. We have long recognised that alcohol abuse damages social fabric, forces families into poverty, leads to violence and sexual abuses.  And despite two centuries of activism and campaigning, we are seeing the same problems entrenched in British society in the twenty first century that wrecked the lives of the poor in Georgian and Victorian Britain.

The Scottish Government is already planning to bring in a 50p per unit minimum price (if they can win the legal battle with the alcohol industry about EU trade rules on pricing).  The rest of the UK is looking to follow suit.

Pricing alone is not the solution of course – as we and church groups have argued, you have to address the psychological and social roots of alcohol abuse as well. But the evidence is certainly stacking up that this is one tool that is having an impact.

Posted by Dr Peter Saunders
CMF Chief Executive

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