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The socioeconomic differences in alcohol-related harm and the effects of alcohol prices on them: a summary of evidence from Finland

Mäkelä, P., Herttua, K., Martikainen, P.

Alcohol and Alcoholism, 50:6, 661-669 (2015)

DOI:10.1093/alcalc/agv068

Abstract

Aims We make a case study of Finland to study the connections between socioeconomic status, alcohol use, related harm and possibilities for intervention by means of alcohol pricing. Methods A review of Finnish studies on the topic. Results The socioeconomic differences in severe alcohol-related harm were great, and in the past two decades, these differences have widened. Alcohol-related mortality has also strongly contributed to both the level and widening of socioeconomic differences in life expectancy. Both in 2004, when alcohol prices were abruptly cut, and in the longer term with more gradual changes in lowest prices of alcohol, the lowest socioeconomic groups were most affected in absolute—but not so clearly in relative—terms, particularly among men. However, these effects are sometimes weak, not fully consistent by gender and across different measures of harm. Conclusions The large and increasing socioeconomic differences in alcohol-related harm in Finland underline the importance of reducing these differences. The finding that particularly among men the impact of reduced alcohol prices on health has often in absolute terms been the greatest in the lower socioeconomic groups suggests that policies aimed at keeping the price of alcoholic beverages high may help to both minimize the overall level of alcohol-related health problems and to reduce absolute inequalities.

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