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07.04.2016 | Original Paper | Ausgabe 4/2017

The European Journal of Health Economics 4/2017

What happens to drinking when alcohol policy changes? A review of five natural experiments for alcohol taxes, prices, and availability

The European Journal of Health Economics > Ausgabe 4/2017
Jon P. Nelson, Amy D. McNall


Natural experiments are an important alternative to observational and econometric studies. This paper provides a review of results from empirical studies of alcohol policy interventions in five countries: Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Switzerland. Major policy changes were removal of quotas on travelers’ tax-free imports and reductions in alcohol taxes. A total of 29 primary articles are reviewed, which contain 35 sets of results for alcohol consumption by various subpopulations and time periods. For each country, the review summarizes and examines: (1) history of tax/quota policy interventions and price changes; (2) graphical trends for alcohol consumption and liver disease mortality; and (3) empirical results for policy effects on alcohol consumption and drinking patterns. We also compare cross-country results for three select outcomes—binge drinking, alcohol consumption by youth and young adults, and heavy consumption by older adults. Overall, we find a lack of consistent results for consumption both within- and across-countries, with a general finding that alcohol tax interventions had selective, rather than broad, impacts on subpopulations and drinking patterns. Policy implications of these findings are discussed.

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