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Previous research has highlighted the availability of relatively cheap alcohol in New Zealand and has demonstrated that the affordability of alcohol has increased over time.1Despite Justice Minister Simon Power stating that this is of concern,2 the issue of price has been avoided in the Alcohol Reform Bill, which is currently before a Parliamentary Select Committee. This is regardless of evidence for both the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of price as a means of reducing consumption and reducing alcohol-related harm, especially in young people and in heavier drinkers.3-7The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, in its report, Alcohol use disorders: Preventing the development of hazardous and harmful drinking makes this statement: "Making alcohol less affordable is the most effective way of reducing alcohol-related harm."3Modelling work from Australia even suggests that alcohol tax interventions will save health sector funds.8The Government's approach to cheap and affordable alcohol has been to rule out any increase in alcohol excise tax and to give retailers a year in which to volunteer data on price and sales of alcohol, to be used in investigating a minimum pricing regime.9 This proposed approach is puzzling and has not been clearly justified, given the existing evidence that price interventions are effective in reducing alcohol-related harm and that increasing affordability of alcohol has already been shown using Statistics New Zealand data.1Indeed, the Review of Liquor Laws undertaken by the Law Commission recommended almost the exact opposite approach—an increase in tax, reduction in tax of low alcohol beverages, and full investigation of a minimum pricing scheme that included a requirementfor retailers and producers to provide sales and price data.10 Nevertheless, to further understand this issue we examined additional contemporary evidence by collecting data on discounted alcohol in late 2010. To provide context, these data were compared with the prices of other commonly consumed non-alcoholic beverages.Methods—We monitored discounted alcoholic beverage prices from 29 October to 20 December 2010, using data detailed on a national service for providing such information to the commercial sector. This service is the "LIPS" (Liquor Information Pricing Search) search engine (www.lips.co.nz), a partially free service established since 2003. LIPS compiles advertised alcohol beverage prices from newspapers, circulars, mailers and email offers from all types of outlets that sell alcohol throughout New Zealand.The purpose of LIPS is to facilitate the ready identification of the cheapest offers, promotions and specials on beer, wine, ready-to-drink premixed spirit drinks (RTDs) and spirits, making this a useful resource for both consumers and the alcohol industry. As Bruce Priddy, the Brand Manager for Jim Beam comments on the site: \"LIPS provide accurate, up to date liquor information beneficial to our everyday business.\"We examined this website for the cheapest alcohol advertised twice weekly (on Mondays and Fridays, to account for possible variation in discounting at different times of the week). We monitored prices for cask wine (previously found to be the cheapest alcohol per standard drink),1 RTDs and cider (as these latter drinks are often favoured by youth drinkers). For comparison, we also monitored discounted soft drink (Coca-Cola), apple-based fruit juice and sparkling grape juice, as these are frequently offered as alternative beverages to alcohol, and milk, as a staple household beverage, particularly for children, as advertised online by a supermarket chain (at http://www.woolworths.co.nz/).We compared standard drinks of alcohol (one standard alcoholic drink being equivalent to 10g of alcohol), taking into account the volume and percentage alcohol of the type of alcohol (e.g., one standard drink of wine at 13% alcohol is 100ml; a standard drink of 4% beer is 330ml; a standard drink of spirits at 40% alcohol is 30ml; a 250ml bottle of RTD spirits at 5% alcohol is approximately one standard drink). Not accounting for volume and percentage alcohol would make comparisons among different alcohol types meaningless.Comparing standard drink per alcohol type (not volume of drink) is commonsense research practice. The number of standard drinks per alcohol unit being sold was calculated by using the formula: "volume of container (litres) × % alcohol by volume (ml/100ml) × 0.789 = number of standard drinks" (obtained from: http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/food-safety-topics/food-processing-labelling/food-labelling/fact-sheets/fs-2003-04-alcohol-labelling.htm). The price per standard drink was then calculated by dividing the cost of the alcohol by number of standard drinks.A few RTDs, where the alcohol content was not readily available, were omitted from the analysis. Similarly, to compare alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverages, this was done using standard drinks not volume comparisons. For non-alcoholic beverages, a glass or cup (250ml) is a commonly accepted serving size and is the serving size for which nutritional information is given on the label for most soft drinks and juices, and is the recommended serving size for milk.11 Hence, 250ml was chosen as the standard drink comparison for non-alcoholic beverages (milk, juice and soft drink).Results—Table 1 shows the price per standard drink (one unit of alcohol for cask wine, cider and RTDs and 250ml for non-alcoholic drinks) for the most discounted brand of each beverage type over the study period. For example, on the first day of sampling, 2.25L ofCoca-Cola cost $2.50, giving a cost per 250ml of 28c; 12 × 330ml bottles of Mac's Isaac's pear cider (at 5% alcohol) cost $15, giving a cost per standard drink of 96c and 3L of Chasseur Classic Red cask wine (13% alcohol) cost $18.89, giving a cost per standard drink of 61c.Over the two months of twice weekly data collection, cask wine generally provided the cheapest alcoholic standard drink, although certain RTDs provided slightly cheaper standard drinks on occasions (as low as $0.53). The prices of RTDs and cider increased in December, perhaps due to fewer pre-Christmas specials. The prices of the non-alcoholic drinks remained fairly static, with the cheapest milk still more expensive than the cheapest cola and fruit juice by glass. A glass of the cheapest non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice was more than twice as expensive as a standard drink of discount cask wine. Table 1. Lowest price per standard drink (one unit for alcoholic drinks, 250ml for non-alcoholic drinks), alcohol beverage data from the LIPS website; Coca-Cola, juice and milk from the online supermarket website Date Alcoholic beverages Non-alcoholic comparison drinks Cask wine Cider RTDs Coca-Cola Apple-based juice Sparkling grape juice Milk* 29/10/2010 $0.61 $0.96 $0.53 $0.28 $0.37 $1.43 $0.44 1/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.65 $0.41 $0.31 $1.40 $0.44 5/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.28 $0.33 $1.40 $0.44 8/11/2010 $0.58 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.42 $1.43 $0.51 12/11/2010 $0.58 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.42 $1.43 $0.31 15/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.30 $0.36 $1.43 $0.44 19/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.30 $0.36 $1.43 $0.30 22/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.25 $1.43 $0.44 26/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.25 $0.25 $1.43 $0.44 29/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.80 $0.33 $0.42 $1.43 $0.44 3/12/2010 $0.60 $1.60 $0.75 $0.28 $0.42 $1.46 $0.44 6/12/2010 $0.60 $1.84 $0.75 $0.28 $0.25 $1.33 $0.34 10/12/2010 $0.60 $1.11 $0.80 $0.28 $0.25 $1.33 $0.44 13/12/2010 $0.60 $1.66 $0.80 $0.40 $0.39 $1.33 $0.44 17/12/2010 $0.58 $1.41 $0.80 $0.40 $0.39 $1.33 $0.44 20/12/2010 $0.68 $1.47 $0.80 $0.28 $0.33 $1.16 $0.44 Average (range) $0.61 (0.58-0.68) $1.17 (0.96-1.84) $0.69 (0.53-0.80) $0.33 (0.25-0.41) $0.35 (0.25-0.42) $1.39 (1.16-1.46) $0.42 (0.30-0.51) *Cheapest out of homogenised, trim etc, but excluding flavoured milks. Brands of products and workings to calculate table are all available from authors on request. Discussion—After 2 months of monitoring discounted alcohol data and comparing this to discounted non-alcoholic beverage data, we demonstrated consistently low prices for several alcohol beverage categories. At the lowest prices (e.g. 0.53 per standard drink for one RTD), some light weight adults could exceed the legal driving limit for blood alcohol after consuming just over a dollar's worth of alcoholic beverage. We found a wider range of prices for cider, although there were fewer specials advertised for cider on the LIPS website than for RTDs. Throughout the time period of monitoring, the number of cider specials ranged from three to 26 per day, but the number of specials recorded for RTDs were in the hundreds on each day of monitoring. We found that for cask wine, the discounting was not merely for one advertised product or brand but even the top five most discounted wines gave a similarly cheap price per standard drink. We also found that the difference between the cost per standard discounted (alcoholic) drink and the cost per glass of discounted non-alcoholic drink was relatively small. For example, on average the cost of a glass of cask wine was 61c, the cost of a glass of milk was 42c and the cost of a glass of sparkling grape juice was $1.39. The comparison with grape juice is notable as it suggests that the current alcohol excise tax is nowhere near high enough to make the wine substantially more expensive than this other product derived from the same source (and presumably grape juice costs less to process than wine does). We know from the Law Commission's detailed report that alcohol is causing substantial harm to New Zealanders10 and that this harm is often a burden to children, to other adults,12and to tax-payers in general. Given the data presented here in our study, it seems clear to us that consumers of alcohol should do more to pay their way (in terms of the true health and social costs of alcohol) and that alcohol prices need to therefore include a much higher excise tax component. A law against alcohol beverage discounts may also be a worthwhile part of the policy response. If adequately informed of the problems associated with cheap alcohol, we believe it is likely that New Zealand society will favour higher alcohol taxes. Indeed, most drinkers themselves may favour such taxes if the tax revenue gained was directed toward increased health spending (e.g. improvements in emergency care in all of New Zealand's public hospitals). Such linkages have been shown to be relevant in determining the support for higher tobacco taxes by New Zealand smokers.13 Ongoing monitoring of alcohol prices by official agencies is also important, but collecting such additional data should not be used to delay action at a time when the public appetite for progress on alcohol control has reached new highs. Kate Sloane Research Manager Fiona Imlach Gunasekara Senior Research Fellow fiona.imlach-gunasekara@otago.ac.nz Nick Wilson Associate Professor Department of Public Health ,University of Otago Wellington, New Zealand

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Method

Results

Conclusion

Author Information

Acknowledgements

Correspondence

Correspondence Email

Competing Interests

Imlach Gunasekara F, Wilson N. Very cheap drinking in New Zealand: Some alcohol is more affordable than bottled water and nearly as cheap as milk. N Z Med J 2010;123(1324):97-101. http://www.nzmj.com/journal/123-1324/4396/content.pdfDickison M, Porteous D. Alcohol cheaper to buy than water - study. New Zealand Herald, 15 October 2010. Available fromhttp://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10680685NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence). Alcohol use disorders: Preventing the development of hazardous and harmful drinking. NICE Public Health Guidance 24. London: NICE, 2010.Wagenaar A, Salois M, Komro K. Effects of beverage alcohol price and tax levels on drinking: a meta-analysis of 1003 estimates from 112 studies. Addiction 2009;104:179-90.Wagenaar A, Tobler A, KA. K. Effects of Alcohol Tax and Price Policies on Morbidity and Mortality: A Systematic Review. Am J Public Health 2010;100:2270-8.University of Sheffield. Independent review of the effects of alcohol pricing and promotion: Part B. Modelling the Potential Impact of Pricing and Promotion Policies for Alcohol in England: Results from the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 2008.WHO Regional Office for Europe. Evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm. Copenhagen: World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, 2009. Available fromhttp://www.euro.who.int/document/E92823.pdfCobiac L, Vos T, Doran C, Wallace A. Cost-effectiveness of interventions to prevent alcohol-related disease and injury in Australia. Addiction 2009;104:1646-55.Fowler N. How alcohol law reforms will affect retailers. The National Business Review 23 August 2010.Palmer G, Sim V, Brett CH, et al. Alcohol In Our Lives: Curbing the Harm. Review of Regulatory Framework for the Sale and Supply of Liquor. Report 114 Wellington: Law Commission, 2010.United States Department of Agriculture. MyPyramid (food pyramid), 2005. Available from www.pyramid.govCasswell S, You RQ, Huckle T. Alcohol's harm to others: reduced wellbeing and health status for those with heavy drinkers in their lives. Addiction 2011;[E-publication 13 January, doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03361.x].Wilson N, Weerasekera D, Edwards R, et al. Characteristics of smoker support for increasing a dedicated tobacco tax: National survey data from New Zealand. Nicotine Tob Res 2010;12(2):168-73.

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Previous research has highlighted the availability of relatively cheap alcohol in New Zealand and has demonstrated that the affordability of alcohol has increased over time.1Despite Justice Minister Simon Power stating that this is of concern,2 the issue of price has been avoided in the Alcohol Reform Bill, which is currently before a Parliamentary Select Committee. This is regardless of evidence for both the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of price as a means of reducing consumption and reducing alcohol-related harm, especially in young people and in heavier drinkers.3-7The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, in its report, Alcohol use disorders: Preventing the development of hazardous and harmful drinking makes this statement: "Making alcohol less affordable is the most effective way of reducing alcohol-related harm."3Modelling work from Australia even suggests that alcohol tax interventions will save health sector funds.8The Government's approach to cheap and affordable alcohol has been to rule out any increase in alcohol excise tax and to give retailers a year in which to volunteer data on price and sales of alcohol, to be used in investigating a minimum pricing regime.9 This proposed approach is puzzling and has not been clearly justified, given the existing evidence that price interventions are effective in reducing alcohol-related harm and that increasing affordability of alcohol has already been shown using Statistics New Zealand data.1Indeed, the Review of Liquor Laws undertaken by the Law Commission recommended almost the exact opposite approach—an increase in tax, reduction in tax of low alcohol beverages, and full investigation of a minimum pricing scheme that included a requirementfor retailers and producers to provide sales and price data.10 Nevertheless, to further understand this issue we examined additional contemporary evidence by collecting data on discounted alcohol in late 2010. To provide context, these data were compared with the prices of other commonly consumed non-alcoholic beverages.Methods—We monitored discounted alcoholic beverage prices from 29 October to 20 December 2010, using data detailed on a national service for providing such information to the commercial sector. This service is the "LIPS" (Liquor Information Pricing Search) search engine (www.lips.co.nz), a partially free service established since 2003. LIPS compiles advertised alcohol beverage prices from newspapers, circulars, mailers and email offers from all types of outlets that sell alcohol throughout New Zealand.The purpose of LIPS is to facilitate the ready identification of the cheapest offers, promotions and specials on beer, wine, ready-to-drink premixed spirit drinks (RTDs) and spirits, making this a useful resource for both consumers and the alcohol industry. As Bruce Priddy, the Brand Manager for Jim Beam comments on the site: \"LIPS provide accurate, up to date liquor information beneficial to our everyday business.\"We examined this website for the cheapest alcohol advertised twice weekly (on Mondays and Fridays, to account for possible variation in discounting at different times of the week). We monitored prices for cask wine (previously found to be the cheapest alcohol per standard drink),1 RTDs and cider (as these latter drinks are often favoured by youth drinkers). For comparison, we also monitored discounted soft drink (Coca-Cola), apple-based fruit juice and sparkling grape juice, as these are frequently offered as alternative beverages to alcohol, and milk, as a staple household beverage, particularly for children, as advertised online by a supermarket chain (at http://www.woolworths.co.nz/).We compared standard drinks of alcohol (one standard alcoholic drink being equivalent to 10g of alcohol), taking into account the volume and percentage alcohol of the type of alcohol (e.g., one standard drink of wine at 13% alcohol is 100ml; a standard drink of 4% beer is 330ml; a standard drink of spirits at 40% alcohol is 30ml; a 250ml bottle of RTD spirits at 5% alcohol is approximately one standard drink). Not accounting for volume and percentage alcohol would make comparisons among different alcohol types meaningless.Comparing standard drink per alcohol type (not volume of drink) is commonsense research practice. The number of standard drinks per alcohol unit being sold was calculated by using the formula: "volume of container (litres) × % alcohol by volume (ml/100ml) × 0.789 = number of standard drinks" (obtained from: http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/food-safety-topics/food-processing-labelling/food-labelling/fact-sheets/fs-2003-04-alcohol-labelling.htm). The price per standard drink was then calculated by dividing the cost of the alcohol by number of standard drinks.A few RTDs, where the alcohol content was not readily available, were omitted from the analysis. Similarly, to compare alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverages, this was done using standard drinks not volume comparisons. For non-alcoholic beverages, a glass or cup (250ml) is a commonly accepted serving size and is the serving size for which nutritional information is given on the label for most soft drinks and juices, and is the recommended serving size for milk.11 Hence, 250ml was chosen as the standard drink comparison for non-alcoholic beverages (milk, juice and soft drink).Results—Table 1 shows the price per standard drink (one unit of alcohol for cask wine, cider and RTDs and 250ml for non-alcoholic drinks) for the most discounted brand of each beverage type over the study period. For example, on the first day of sampling, 2.25L ofCoca-Cola cost $2.50, giving a cost per 250ml of 28c; 12 × 330ml bottles of Mac's Isaac's pear cider (at 5% alcohol) cost $15, giving a cost per standard drink of 96c and 3L of Chasseur Classic Red cask wine (13% alcohol) cost $18.89, giving a cost per standard drink of 61c.Over the two months of twice weekly data collection, cask wine generally provided the cheapest alcoholic standard drink, although certain RTDs provided slightly cheaper standard drinks on occasions (as low as $0.53). The prices of RTDs and cider increased in December, perhaps due to fewer pre-Christmas specials. The prices of the non-alcoholic drinks remained fairly static, with the cheapest milk still more expensive than the cheapest cola and fruit juice by glass. A glass of the cheapest non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice was more than twice as expensive as a standard drink of discount cask wine. Table 1. Lowest price per standard drink (one unit for alcoholic drinks, 250ml for non-alcoholic drinks), alcohol beverage data from the LIPS website; Coca-Cola, juice and milk from the online supermarket website Date Alcoholic beverages Non-alcoholic comparison drinks Cask wine Cider RTDs Coca-Cola Apple-based juice Sparkling grape juice Milk* 29/10/2010 $0.61 $0.96 $0.53 $0.28 $0.37 $1.43 $0.44 1/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.65 $0.41 $0.31 $1.40 $0.44 5/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.28 $0.33 $1.40 $0.44 8/11/2010 $0.58 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.42 $1.43 $0.51 12/11/2010 $0.58 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.42 $1.43 $0.31 15/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.30 $0.36 $1.43 $0.44 19/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.30 $0.36 $1.43 $0.30 22/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.25 $1.43 $0.44 26/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.25 $0.25 $1.43 $0.44 29/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.80 $0.33 $0.42 $1.43 $0.44 3/12/2010 $0.60 $1.60 $0.75 $0.28 $0.42 $1.46 $0.44 6/12/2010 $0.60 $1.84 $0.75 $0.28 $0.25 $1.33 $0.34 10/12/2010 $0.60 $1.11 $0.80 $0.28 $0.25 $1.33 $0.44 13/12/2010 $0.60 $1.66 $0.80 $0.40 $0.39 $1.33 $0.44 17/12/2010 $0.58 $1.41 $0.80 $0.40 $0.39 $1.33 $0.44 20/12/2010 $0.68 $1.47 $0.80 $0.28 $0.33 $1.16 $0.44 Average (range) $0.61 (0.58-0.68) $1.17 (0.96-1.84) $0.69 (0.53-0.80) $0.33 (0.25-0.41) $0.35 (0.25-0.42) $1.39 (1.16-1.46) $0.42 (0.30-0.51) *Cheapest out of homogenised, trim etc, but excluding flavoured milks. Brands of products and workings to calculate table are all available from authors on request. Discussion—After 2 months of monitoring discounted alcohol data and comparing this to discounted non-alcoholic beverage data, we demonstrated consistently low prices for several alcohol beverage categories. At the lowest prices (e.g. 0.53 per standard drink for one RTD), some light weight adults could exceed the legal driving limit for blood alcohol after consuming just over a dollar's worth of alcoholic beverage. We found a wider range of prices for cider, although there were fewer specials advertised for cider on the LIPS website than for RTDs. Throughout the time period of monitoring, the number of cider specials ranged from three to 26 per day, but the number of specials recorded for RTDs were in the hundreds on each day of monitoring. We found that for cask wine, the discounting was not merely for one advertised product or brand but even the top five most discounted wines gave a similarly cheap price per standard drink. We also found that the difference between the cost per standard discounted (alcoholic) drink and the cost per glass of discounted non-alcoholic drink was relatively small. For example, on average the cost of a glass of cask wine was 61c, the cost of a glass of milk was 42c and the cost of a glass of sparkling grape juice was $1.39. The comparison with grape juice is notable as it suggests that the current alcohol excise tax is nowhere near high enough to make the wine substantially more expensive than this other product derived from the same source (and presumably grape juice costs less to process than wine does). We know from the Law Commission's detailed report that alcohol is causing substantial harm to New Zealanders10 and that this harm is often a burden to children, to other adults,12and to tax-payers in general. Given the data presented here in our study, it seems clear to us that consumers of alcohol should do more to pay their way (in terms of the true health and social costs of alcohol) and that alcohol prices need to therefore include a much higher excise tax component. A law against alcohol beverage discounts may also be a worthwhile part of the policy response. If adequately informed of the problems associated with cheap alcohol, we believe it is likely that New Zealand society will favour higher alcohol taxes. Indeed, most drinkers themselves may favour such taxes if the tax revenue gained was directed toward increased health spending (e.g. improvements in emergency care in all of New Zealand's public hospitals). Such linkages have been shown to be relevant in determining the support for higher tobacco taxes by New Zealand smokers.13 Ongoing monitoring of alcohol prices by official agencies is also important, but collecting such additional data should not be used to delay action at a time when the public appetite for progress on alcohol control has reached new highs. Kate Sloane Research Manager Fiona Imlach Gunasekara Senior Research Fellow fiona.imlach-gunasekara@otago.ac.nz Nick Wilson Associate Professor Department of Public Health ,University of Otago Wellington, New Zealand

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Method

Results

Conclusion

Author Information

Acknowledgements

Correspondence

Correspondence Email

Competing Interests

Imlach Gunasekara F, Wilson N. Very cheap drinking in New Zealand: Some alcohol is more affordable than bottled water and nearly as cheap as milk. N Z Med J 2010;123(1324):97-101. http://www.nzmj.com/journal/123-1324/4396/content.pdfDickison M, Porteous D. Alcohol cheaper to buy than water - study. New Zealand Herald, 15 October 2010. Available fromhttp://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10680685NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence). Alcohol use disorders: Preventing the development of hazardous and harmful drinking. NICE Public Health Guidance 24. London: NICE, 2010.Wagenaar A, Salois M, Komro K. Effects of beverage alcohol price and tax levels on drinking: a meta-analysis of 1003 estimates from 112 studies. Addiction 2009;104:179-90.Wagenaar A, Tobler A, KA. K. Effects of Alcohol Tax and Price Policies on Morbidity and Mortality: A Systematic Review. Am J Public Health 2010;100:2270-8.University of Sheffield. Independent review of the effects of alcohol pricing and promotion: Part B. Modelling the Potential Impact of Pricing and Promotion Policies for Alcohol in England: Results from the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 2008.WHO Regional Office for Europe. Evidence for the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm. Copenhagen: World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, 2009. Available fromhttp://www.euro.who.int/document/E92823.pdfCobiac L, Vos T, Doran C, Wallace A. Cost-effectiveness of interventions to prevent alcohol-related disease and injury in Australia. Addiction 2009;104:1646-55.Fowler N. How alcohol law reforms will affect retailers. The National Business Review 23 August 2010.Palmer G, Sim V, Brett CH, et al. Alcohol In Our Lives: Curbing the Harm. Review of Regulatory Framework for the Sale and Supply of Liquor. Report 114 Wellington: Law Commission, 2010.United States Department of Agriculture. MyPyramid (food pyramid), 2005. Available from www.pyramid.govCasswell S, You RQ, Huckle T. Alcohol's harm to others: reduced wellbeing and health status for those with heavy drinkers in their lives. Addiction 2011;[E-publication 13 January, doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03361.x].Wilson N, Weerasekera D, Edwards R, et al. Characteristics of smoker support for increasing a dedicated tobacco tax: National survey data from New Zealand. Nicotine Tob Res 2010;12(2):168-73.

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contact nzmj@nzma.org.nz

View Article PDF

Previous research has highlighted the availability of relatively cheap alcohol in New Zealand and has demonstrated that the affordability of alcohol has increased over time.1Despite Justice Minister Simon Power stating that this is of concern,2 the issue of price has been avoided in the Alcohol Reform Bill, which is currently before a Parliamentary Select Committee. This is regardless of evidence for both the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of price as a means of reducing consumption and reducing alcohol-related harm, especially in young people and in heavier drinkers.3-7The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, in its report, Alcohol use disorders: Preventing the development of hazardous and harmful drinking makes this statement: "Making alcohol less affordable is the most effective way of reducing alcohol-related harm."3Modelling work from Australia even suggests that alcohol tax interventions will save health sector funds.8The Government's approach to cheap and affordable alcohol has been to rule out any increase in alcohol excise tax and to give retailers a year in which to volunteer data on price and sales of alcohol, to be used in investigating a minimum pricing regime.9 This proposed approach is puzzling and has not been clearly justified, given the existing evidence that price interventions are effective in reducing alcohol-related harm and that increasing affordability of alcohol has already been shown using Statistics New Zealand data.1Indeed, the Review of Liquor Laws undertaken by the Law Commission recommended almost the exact opposite approach—an increase in tax, reduction in tax of low alcohol beverages, and full investigation of a minimum pricing scheme that included a requirementfor retailers and producers to provide sales and price data.10 Nevertheless, to further understand this issue we examined additional contemporary evidence by collecting data on discounted alcohol in late 2010. To provide context, these data were compared with the prices of other commonly consumed non-alcoholic beverages.Methods—We monitored discounted alcoholic beverage prices from 29 October to 20 December 2010, using data detailed on a national service for providing such information to the commercial sector. This service is the "LIPS" (Liquor Information Pricing Search) search engine (www.lips.co.nz), a partially free service established since 2003. LIPS compiles advertised alcohol beverage prices from newspapers, circulars, mailers and email offers from all types of outlets that sell alcohol throughout New Zealand.The purpose of LIPS is to facilitate the ready identification of the cheapest offers, promotions and specials on beer, wine, ready-to-drink premixed spirit drinks (RTDs) and spirits, making this a useful resource for both consumers and the alcohol industry. As Bruce Priddy, the Brand Manager for Jim Beam comments on the site: \"LIPS provide accurate, up to date liquor information beneficial to our everyday business.\"We examined this website for the cheapest alcohol advertised twice weekly (on Mondays and Fridays, to account for possible variation in discounting at different times of the week). We monitored prices for cask wine (previously found to be the cheapest alcohol per standard drink),1 RTDs and cider (as these latter drinks are often favoured by youth drinkers). For comparison, we also monitored discounted soft drink (Coca-Cola), apple-based fruit juice and sparkling grape juice, as these are frequently offered as alternative beverages to alcohol, and milk, as a staple household beverage, particularly for children, as advertised online by a supermarket chain (at http://www.woolworths.co.nz/).We compared standard drinks of alcohol (one standard alcoholic drink being equivalent to 10g of alcohol), taking into account the volume and percentage alcohol of the type of alcohol (e.g., one standard drink of wine at 13% alcohol is 100ml; a standard drink of 4% beer is 330ml; a standard drink of spirits at 40% alcohol is 30ml; a 250ml bottle of RTD spirits at 5% alcohol is approximately one standard drink). Not accounting for volume and percentage alcohol would make comparisons among different alcohol types meaningless.Comparing standard drink per alcohol type (not volume of drink) is commonsense research practice. The number of standard drinks per alcohol unit being sold was calculated by using the formula: "volume of container (litres) × % alcohol by volume (ml/100ml) × 0.789 = number of standard drinks" (obtained from: http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/food-safety-topics/food-processing-labelling/food-labelling/fact-sheets/fs-2003-04-alcohol-labelling.htm). The price per standard drink was then calculated by dividing the cost of the alcohol by number of standard drinks.A few RTDs, where the alcohol content was not readily available, were omitted from the analysis. Similarly, to compare alcoholic to non-alcoholic beverages, this was done using standard drinks not volume comparisons. For non-alcoholic beverages, a glass or cup (250ml) is a commonly accepted serving size and is the serving size for which nutritional information is given on the label for most soft drinks and juices, and is the recommended serving size for milk.11 Hence, 250ml was chosen as the standard drink comparison for non-alcoholic beverages (milk, juice and soft drink).Results—Table 1 shows the price per standard drink (one unit of alcohol for cask wine, cider and RTDs and 250ml for non-alcoholic drinks) for the most discounted brand of each beverage type over the study period. For example, on the first day of sampling, 2.25L ofCoca-Cola cost $2.50, giving a cost per 250ml of 28c; 12 × 330ml bottles of Mac's Isaac's pear cider (at 5% alcohol) cost $15, giving a cost per standard drink of 96c and 3L of Chasseur Classic Red cask wine (13% alcohol) cost $18.89, giving a cost per standard drink of 61c.Over the two months of twice weekly data collection, cask wine generally provided the cheapest alcoholic standard drink, although certain RTDs provided slightly cheaper standard drinks on occasions (as low as $0.53). The prices of RTDs and cider increased in December, perhaps due to fewer pre-Christmas specials. The prices of the non-alcoholic drinks remained fairly static, with the cheapest milk still more expensive than the cheapest cola and fruit juice by glass. A glass of the cheapest non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice was more than twice as expensive as a standard drink of discount cask wine. Table 1. Lowest price per standard drink (one unit for alcoholic drinks, 250ml for non-alcoholic drinks), alcohol beverage data from the LIPS website; Coca-Cola, juice and milk from the online supermarket website Date Alcoholic beverages Non-alcoholic comparison drinks Cask wine Cider RTDs Coca-Cola Apple-based juice Sparkling grape juice Milk* 29/10/2010 $0.61 $0.96 $0.53 $0.28 $0.37 $1.43 $0.44 1/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.65 $0.41 $0.31 $1.40 $0.44 5/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.28 $0.33 $1.40 $0.44 8/11/2010 $0.58 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.42 $1.43 $0.51 12/11/2010 $0.58 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.42 $1.43 $0.31 15/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.30 $0.36 $1.43 $0.44 19/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.30 $0.36 $1.43 $0.30 22/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.40 $0.25 $1.43 $0.44 26/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.63 $0.25 $0.25 $1.43 $0.44 29/11/2010 $0.62 $0.96 $0.80 $0.33 $0.42 $1.43 $0.44 3/12/2010 $0.60 $1.60 $0.75 $0.28 $0.42 $1.46 $0.44 6/12/2010 $0.60 $1.84 $0.75 $0.28 $0.25 $1.33 $0.34 10/12/2010 $0.60 $1.11 $0.80 $0.28 $0.25 $1.33 $0.44 13/12/2010 $0.60 $1.66 $0.80 $0.40 $0.39 $1.33 $0.44 17/12/2010 $0.58 $1.41 $0.80 $0.40 $0.39 $1.33 $0.44 20/12/2010 $0.68 $1.47 $0.80 $0.28 $0.33 $1.16 $0.44 Average (range) $0.61 (0.58-0.68) $1.17 (0.96-1.84) $0.69 (0.53-0.80) $0.33 (0.25-0.41) $0.35 (0.25-0.42) $1.39 (1.16-1.46) $0.42 (0.30-0.51) *Cheapest out of homogenised, trim etc, but excluding flavoured milks. Brands of products and workings to calculate table are all available from authors on request. Discussion—After 2 months of monitoring discounted alcohol data and comparing this to discounted non-alcoholic beverage data, we demonstrated consistently low prices for several alcohol beverage categories. At the lowest prices (e.g. 0.53 per standard drink for one RTD), some light weight adults could exceed the legal driving limit for blood alcohol after consuming just over a dollar's worth of alcoholic beverage. We found a wider range of prices for cider, although there were fewer specials advertised for cider on the LIPS website than for RTDs. Throughout the time period of monitoring, the number of cider specials ranged from three to 26 per day, but the number of specials recorded for RTDs were in the hundreds on each day of monitoring. We found that for cask wine, the discounting was not merely for one advertised product or brand but even the top five most discounted wines gave a similarly cheap price per standard drink. We also found that the difference between the cost per standard discounted (alcoholic) drink and the cost per glass of discounted non-alcoholic drink was relatively small. For example, on average the cost of a glass of cask wine was 61c, the cost of a glass of milk was 42c and the cost of a glass of sparkling grape juice was $1.39. The comparison with grape juice is notable as it suggests that the current alcohol excise tax is nowhere near high enough to make the wine substantially more expensive than this other product derived from the same source (and presumably grape juice costs less to process than wine does). We know from the Law Commission's detailed report that alcohol is causing substantial harm to New Zealanders10 and that this harm is often a burden to children, to other adults,12and to tax-payers in general. Given the data presented here in our study, it seems clear to us that consumers of alcohol should do more to pay their way (in terms of the true health and social costs of alcohol) and that alcohol prices need to therefore include a much higher excise tax component. A law against alcohol beverage discounts may also be a worthwhile part of the policy response. If adequately informed of the problems associated with cheap alcohol, we believe it is likely that New Zealand society will favour higher alcohol taxes. Indeed, most drinkers themselves may favour such taxes if the tax revenue gained was directed toward increased health spending (e.g. improvements in emergency care in all of New Zealand's public hospitals). Such linkages have been shown to be relevant in determining the support for higher tobacco taxes by New Zealand smokers.13 Ongoing monitoring of alcohol prices by official agencies is also important, but collecting such additional data should not be used to delay action at a time when the public appetite for progress on alcohol control has reached new highs. Kate Sloane Research Manager Fiona Imlach Gunasekara Senior Research Fellow fiona.imlach-gunasekara@otago.ac.nz Nick Wilson Associate Professor Department of Public Health ,University of Otago Wellington, New Zealand

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