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Excising Excess

Using alcohol taxes to reduce harmful drinking.
Posted August 16, 2009

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Police report that 31% of all reported crime and 33% of violent crime are alcohol related. A recent study of attendances at an Auckland hospital’s emergency department found that 35% of all injury cases were liquor related and that consuming alcohol increased the chance of suffering an accident by 2.8 times. Alcohol is a contributing factor in 80% of reported domestic violence cases.

The misuse of alcohol is a social problem that may be costing New Zealand society as much as $5.3 billion annually and which is probably costing the New Zealand Government and taxpayers at least $700 million each year in direct expenditures. Yet, despite the extent of this problem in both economic and social terms, the policy debate around alcohol has largely been framed as a regulatory or law and order issue.

It is possible to see liquor and its use as being a much broader public health policy issue. It is also possible to see questions of preferences and choices around liquor as being more than just those of consumers in a market. There may, for example, be a wider set of preferences for communities around how opportunities to consume liquor are balanced against the risks and costs associated with its consumption.