Poster Paper: Assessing the Effects of Alcohol Policies on Consumption: Why the Measurement of Consumption Is Important

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Marlon Graf1,2, Rosalie Pacula1,2, Greg Midgette2, Raffaele Vardavas2 and Susan Paddock2, (1)Pardee RAND Graduate School, (2)RAND Corporation

The adverse effects of excessive alcohol consumption on people’s health are well documented, but the evidence of positive health effects associated with moderate drinking is also growing. To date, analyses of the relative effectiveness of alternative alcohol control policies tend to consider harmful impacts (e.g. binge drinking) without considering whether such policies also discourage beneficial drinking, which might be relevant when assessing the cost-benefit of using a particular policy approach. To consider alcohol policies in terms of their impact on beneficial consumption, we need to focus more carefully on additional margins of use beyond just binge drinking, such as days of use and amount consumed per day. Doing so allows us to better understand whether policies discourage low dose daily drinking while also discouraging high dose infrequent drinking.   

In this paper we reconsider the effect of a particular policy (alcohol taxation) and assess the extent to which alcohol taxation differentially influences various margins of use and patterns of consumption. We first conduct a comprehensive literature review and demonstrate that there are very few studies that comprehensively considered this question.  Those limited studies that have, do so find that even in the case of alcohol taxation there are differential impacts depending on which margin of use is considered: number of days drinking in the past 30 days, average number of drinks per drinking day, and total ethanol consumed. The studies show considerable variation in both the magnitude and directionality of effects for alcohol taxes on consumption, depending on the particular measure of alcohol use studied, but the studies do not directly speak to the extent to which low dose consumption is additionally reduced when taxes go up. We next turn to our own analysis of the 1997-2012 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997 Cohort) and consider the impact of recent changes in the tax on beer on consumption of young adults across a variety of margins of use. Our findings suggest that total alcohol consumed among adolescents and young adults is negatively related to changes in price, but the change in consumption is driven in large part by days of drinking rather than some combination of quantity per occasion and number of occasions. This may suggest drinkers would prefer to drink to some level of intoxication each time they drink rather than drink more frequently at lower levels.

An important implication of our finding is that studies which seek to better understand the impact of policies on health behavior need to consider how a single policy might differentially influence important margins of use. Analyses focused on total alcohol (or ethanol) consumed in the past 30 days cannot capture important differential patterns caused by low dose high frequency use versus high quantity low frequency use.