Do alcohol control policies have the predicted effects on consumption? An analysis of the Baltic countries and Poland 2000-2020
Using data on alcohol per capita consumption (APC) from four countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) over two decades, researchers wanted to investigate if the differences between countries could be explained by differences in alcohol policy. The results of this study constitute strong support for the three alcohol policy best buys: taxation increases, reduced availability, and advertising and marketing restrictions.
For all four countries, alcohol consumption increased between 2000 and 2005. Thereafter, consumption continued to increase in Poland. For the Baltic countries, the trends were more varied, with both Estonia and Lithuania reducing consumption between 2014 and 2020.
Alcohol policy solutions are often cited as being responsible for these fluctuations, but there are few studies which have empirically examined this claim, in part because of limited data and time series that are not long enough. By combining data from four countries the authors of this study managed to create a dataset large enough for statistical analysis.
The basic hypothesis was that implementation of alcohol taxation increases high enough to reduce affordability, or of availability limits (reduced trade hours for alcoholic beverages by at least 20%), would be associated with immediate alcohol consumption decreases. As for restrictions in advertising and marketing, researchers postulate a mid- to long-term effect.
Data analysis shows:
- Taxation increases and availability limits in all countries were associated with an average reduction in alcohol per capita consumption of 0.83 litres of pure alcohol per year. Changes took place in the same year, with no significant differences between countries.
- Restrictions on advertising and/or marketing had no significant immediate associations with APC.
The conclusion is that the WHO “best buy” alcohol policy solutions of taxation increases and common-sense availability limits worked as postulated in these four northeastern European Union countries.
Many population-based alcohol policies are postulated to work via changes in adult alcohol per capita consumption (APC). However, since APC is usually assessed on a yearly basis, often there are not enough data to conduct interrupted time-series or other controlled analyses. The current dataset, with 21 years of observation from four countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland), had sufficient power to test for average effects and potential interactions of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) three “best buys” for alcohol policy:
- taxation increases leading to a decrease in affordability;
- limited availability (via a decrease in opening hours of at least 20 %); and
- advertising and marketing restrictions.
The researchers postulated that the former two would have immediate effects, while the latter would have mid- to long-term effects.
Linear regression analysis.
Taxation increases and availability reductions in all countries were associated with an average reduction in APC of 0.83 litres (ℓ) of pure alcohol per year in the same year, with no significant differences between countries. Restrictions on advertising and/or marketing had no significant immediate associations with APC.
Several sensitivity analyses corroborated these main results.
The WHO “best buy” alcohol policy solutions of taxation increases and availability limits worked as postulated in these four northeastern European Union countries.