By Paul Purcell
It is unlikely a minimum price on alcohol will turn dependent drinkers to crime or harmful alternatives according to a new report published in the NZ Medical Journal.
A proposed price-hike of $1, $1.10 or $1.20 per standard drink has been explored by the Ministry of Justice, but it struggled to garner support due to fears of increased criminality or dangerous behaviour.
But the survey of 115 alcoholics, who consume around 24 standard drinks per day on average, revealed that an overall drop in alcohol consumption in this group would be likely.
In addition, there is limited evidence they would turn to crime or unsafe alternatives such as methylated spirits to fuel their alcoholism.
"Because this would severely restrict the ability of this group to switch to an alternate cheap alcohol product, it seems likely that a minimum pricing regime would result in an overall reduction in alcohol consumption in this group," the authors wrote.
"Fears of such behaviours are not valid reasons for rejecting a minimum pricing regime to reduce general per capita consumption at policy level," the authors wrote.
Last year, then-Justice Minister Judith Collins decided against a minimum pricing regime to curb binge drinking.
She said the scheme would impact moderate drinkers' hip pockets unfairly when there was no compelling evidence that increasing the price of alcohol is the correct approach.
But experts disagree.
Otago University's Preventive & Social Medicine chair professor Jennie Connor says the study doesn't provide new evidence of the effectiveness of minimum pricing because there's already examples in Canada and the United Kingdom.
"I don't think we need more research into minimum pricing before introducing it," she said.
"Although existing research suggests it is likely to have a positive impact on health and save public money, we need to measure the impact to inform policy here and internationally."
"If the doubters are right and it is not effective in the medium term then it could be reconsidered in the light of that evidence."