The Opposition spokesman on health, Peter Dutton, was recently quoted in the SMH and other Fairfax publications arguing that increasing tobacco taxes is just a money grab and has “nothing to do with health outcomes”.
It’s time Mr Dutton, his staff, colleagues – and anyone else who happens to be poorly informed on this issue – became acquainted with an excellent initiative of the Centers for Disease Control in the US, the Community Guide to Preventive Services, which publishes recommendations based on rigorous systematic reviews of various public health interventions.
Even a quick perusal of the Guide’s website reveals that interventions to increase tobacco prices – including increasing tobacco taxes – have been proven to be an effective way of stopping adolescents and young adults from taking up the habit, reducing cigarette consumption, and increasing the number of smokers who quit.
The Guide says that such tax increases have also been shown to be more effective and have a greater public health impact when combined with other comprehensive tobacco control programs that reduce the prevalence of smoking through evidence-based policy tools. Increasing the price of cigarettes through tax increases can also diminish socioeconomic smoking disparities because low income groups are more responsive to price increases.
You can read more here.
The guide has also recently investigated the impact of increasing alcohol tax – another issue about which we hear a lot of poorly informed commentary.
It recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes, based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms, including such as alcohol-impaired driving, motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, and deaths from cirrhosis of the liver.
The effect of price on alcohol consumption is expressed as “price elasticity” or the expected percentage change in alcohol consumption when the price is increased by 1%.
Estimated price elasticities for different types of alcohol are:
* Beer consumption: -0.50, which means beer consumption would be expected to decrease 5% for every 10% increase in price.
* Wine consumption: -0.64, which means wine consumption would be expected to decrease 6.4% for every 10% increase in price.
* Spirits consumption: -0.79, which means spirits consumption would be expected to decrease 7.9% for every 10% increase in price.
* Total alcohol (ethanol) consumption: -0.77, which means total alcohol consumption would be expected to decrease 7.7% for every 10% increase in price.
Just because the Guide does not recommend a public health intervention does not mean that it doesn’t work – it may, for example, simply mean that the necessary and appropriate studies just haven’t been done. But when the Guide does recommend an intervention, it’s pretty safe to assume that there is reliable evidence to show it works and is worthwhile doing.
The question I’m left wondering is: when politicians and others make ill-informed statements, should the media just report them straight up and down? It doesn’t take too much journalistic effort or investigation to check out whether claims such as Dutton’s are based on evidence or hot air.
The beauty of cyberspace is that we are all only a few clicks away from an ever-increasing array of initiatives that aim to share the evidence about what works in both health and social policy.