Between 2005 and 2012, more than 300,000 visits were made to British emergency rooms because of injuries caused by violence. And while patients were getting stitched up and sent home, a team of scientists from Cardiff University were looking at data from 100 hospitals in order to better understand the economic forces at play.
Specifically, they looked at the impact of alcohol on violence and found that the price of alcohol was negatively associated with the rate of violence-related hospital stays. In other words, the more alcohol costs, the less likely drinkers are to end up in the hospital; a relationship that held up even after accounting for regional poverty, income inequality, youth spending power, and seasonal effects.
The potential policy implications of this research, which was published this week in the British Medical Journal's Injury Prevention journal, were pretty clear to the Cardiff team. They claim that it wouldn't take much more than a 1 percent increase in booze prices to get significant results.
"It is estimated that over 6,000 fewer violence-related ED [Emergency Department] attendances per year in England and Wales would result from a one percent increase in both on-trade and off-trade alcohol prices above inflation," they wrote in the results section of the study. That's a lot less people spending their time and taxpayer money on patching up easily preventable wounds.
What's more, they suggest that this method of controlling prices through taxes could be a more effective means of curbing violence than per-unit of alcohol pricing. "Small increases in the price of alcohol, above inflation, in both markets, would substantially reduce the number of patients attending EDs for treatment of violence-related injuries in England and Wales," they wrote. "Reforming the current alcohol taxation system may be more effective at reducing violence-related injury than minimum unit pricing."
In the US, where alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of preventable death, similar methods of taxation have been explored and research indicates that higher prices could lead to dramatically lower rates in related harms like violence.
Taxation has also been proposed as a way of countering the mounting rates of sexually transmitted infections associated with drinking. Such measures have yet to go into effect, or be proven effective. But, as we all know, anecdotally, at least, it's hard to imagine violent or horny people being disincentivized by taxes when they are in the throes of hardcore drinking.