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Health experts call for alcohol tax reforms in budget

Thursday 7 May, 2009

A Coalition* of health agencies has today urged the Federal Government to implement more aggressive taxing of high alcohol products in response to recent ABS statistics that highlight a disturbing trend away from lower strength beer towards mid and full strength varieties. This comes at a time when the government is trying to tackle the many issues associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

The Alcohol Policy Coalition is pushing for the Federal Government to consider the role of tax and pricing in shifting drinkers' tastes to lower alcohol products in next week's Budget in a bid to curb Australia's burgeoning binge drinking culture.

"In a climate where we are seeing a decrease in consumption of low alcohol beer we need to ensure a meaningful difference in price between low and higher alcohol beer. This will encourage a shift in consumption towards lower alcohol products," said VicHealth CEO, Mr Todd Harper.

The Coalition members, the Australian Drug Foundation, the Cancer Council Victoria, Turning Point and VicHealth not only support increasing taxes on alcohol but are urging the Federal Government to consider widening the tax differential between low and higher alcohol products in next week's Federal Budget.

There is strong evidence that increasing the cost of alcohol reduces overall consumption.

"We know that price has a major impact on consumption," said Professor Robin Room of Turning Point. "After the alcopops tax was reintroduced in April 2008, there was a sharp drop in consumption of alcopops. Even with some substitution, this resulted in a drop in overall alcohol consumption. One estimate is that the alcopop consumption dropped by seven million drinks a week, and total alcohol consumption by three million drinks a week," he said.

The group also supports part of the revenue raised through taxation to be used to fund alcohol prevention programs.
"Recent research commissioned by the Australian Drug Foundation and VicHealth found that 89 percent of people believe that some of the alcohol tax revenue collected should be used to fund alcohol prevention and treatment programs. This is a proposal which has the support of the vast majority of Australians," commented Geoff Munro, Policy Director of the Australian Drug Foundation.

According to Craig Sinclair from the Cancer Council of Victoria, price was not the only factor in curbing harmful drinking but it was an important tool as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce the health and social impacts of alcohol.

"We've all seen the health payoffs from increasing excise on cigarettes, we urge the Federal Government to fulfil its preventative health agenda by not only increasing taxes on alcohol but also ensuring a widening price gap between higher and lower strength alcohol products," he said.

* The Alcohol Policy Coalition (the Coalition) is comprised of health agencies - Australian Drug Foundation, Cancer Council Victoria, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, and VicHealth - who share a concern about the level of alcohol misuse in the community. The Coalition's long-term goal is to reduce the negative health and social consequences of alcohol.