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Alcohol tax 'will stop thousands being hurt in violence every year'

Published 12/07/2016

Increasing the tax on alcohol - and reducing poverty - could prevent thousands of injuries a year, say Cardiff University researchers.
Increasing the tax on alcohol - and reducing poverty - could prevent thousands of injuries a year, say Cardiff University researchers.

A small alcohol tax could cut the number of A&E visits caused by violent injury by more than 6,000 a year, research suggests.

Putting a duty of just 1% above inflation on drinks sold in shops, supermarkets, pubs and restaurants could be more effective than introducing a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, experts behind the study said.

Writing online in the journal Injury Prevention, they said thousands of visits to A&E in England and Wales every year could be stopped. But they also said cutting the inequalities between the rich and poor could have a dramatic effect.

The Cardiff University team looked at data for adults who had visited 100 A&E departments across England and Wales between 2005 and 2012.

In that time, nearly 300,000 visits were made to the departments for injuries caused by violence. Three-quarters of those treated were men aged 18 to 30.

Accompanying data on pricing showed that lower alcohol prices both in shops, bars and restaurants were linked to more attendances at A&E.

This held true even after taking into account of poverty, differences in household income, spending power and time of year.

The authors said a 1% rise in tax could save more than 6,000 visits every year, although they said poverty had an even stronger link.

A 1% drop in poverty and a slight fall in the difference between those at the top of the income scale and those at the bottom could result in 18,000 fewer visits for violence-induced injuries, they said.

The team concluded: "The additional tax revenue gained, estimated at close to £1 billion a year, would be at the Treasury's disposal, and could be used to offset the cost of alcohol-related harm to the NHS.

"Reforming the current alcohol taxation system may be more effective at reducing violence-related injury than minimum unit pricing."

The research also found that, overall, violence-related injuries were more frequent in the summer months of June, July and August than other months.

Previous studies have shown that violence-related injuries are more likely when alcohol is consumed in the six hours beforehand.

Sarah Toule, head of health information at World Cancer Research Fund, said: "We agree that the pricing of alcohol needs to be looked at by the Government, as increased price has been shown to be effective in reducing the total amount of alcohol drunk.

"Less drinking would also lead to less cases of many types of cancer - including breast, bowel and liver.

"In fact, we could prevent about 24,000 cancer cases each year by not drinking alcohol."

A Treasury spokesperson said: "High duty rates penalise responsible drinkers.

"However, the government recognises the health and social harms associated with problem consumption of alcohol. This is why we have taken targeted to encourage responsible alcohol consumption.

"For example, to encourage the consumption and production of lower strength beer, the government has higher duties on super strength beer and cider."

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