CAMH and the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences to assess the effects of alcohol control policies in the Baltics
A new international research project launched in Lithuania will assess the effects of alcohol control policies implemented in the Baltic States and investigate the impact they have had on people's health and the countries' economies. The project is funded by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and brings together Baltic and Canadian researchers working in close collaboration with WHO European country offices. They will not only gather valuable data, but also identify the best practices for lowering alcohol-related harm across Northern Europe and beyond.
The "Evaluation of the impact of alcohol control policies on morbidity and mortality in Lithuania and other Baltic states" project will last five years and could ultimately benefit the health and economies of all of the Baltic States.
The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institute of Health (NIH) has awarded a nearly $2 million USD grant to make this research possible. The project will be led by experts from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Health Research Institute of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, in association with researchers and institutions from Latvia and Estonia.
"Alcohol use is responsible for about 3 million deaths worldwide each year," said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Senior Scientist, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at CAMH. "But It is very clear from previous data that most of these deaths are preventable by implementing alcohol control policies. Other countries who implemented alcohol control policies have shown marked decreases in consumption and related increases in life expectancy."
Lithuania shows the effects of taking action
Lithuania's experience is at the centre of the research - its concrete actions to control alcohol consumption present a so-called 'natural experiment' with a wide range of measures implemented over a short period of time. Lithuania was as one of the heaviest drinking countries in the WHO European Region in 2010, with a total alcohol consumption was 15.1 litres of pure alcohol per capita, more than twice the global average. As early as 2008-2009, Lithuania introduced a series of WHO 'best buy' policies, increasing the price of alcoholic beverages, reducing its availability, and limiting its advertisement. In the period following 2014, further bans on alcohol sales in gas stations, major excise tax increases and other WHO-recommended fiscal regulations were put into place.
It is therefore crucial to have abundant data from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for researchers to be able to compare the Baltic States' performance in tackling alcohol-related health risks and assess the cost-effectiveness of these measures. Lessons learned from the project will be important for all countries of the WHO European Region and beyond.
"Research on alcohol policy is developing fast. While we know that policies such as raising prices and taxes, and restricting marketing and availability are effective in reducing alcohol consumption, we must deepen our knowledge regarding what will also work with regards to neighbouring countries, and what levels of health and economic gains can be achieved," said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
"The findings of this newly-launched project will help policy-makers to move from what - to understand how alcohol control policies are best implemented and enforced, as well as their impact on people's health. This practical approach is fundamental to the new European Programme of Work, 'United Action for Better Health in Europe', he added.
The "evaluation of the impact of alcohol control policies on morbidity and mortality in Lithuania and other Baltic states" project will have three main objectives:
- to measure the effectiveness of the alcohol control policy interventions implemented in Lithuania between 2016 and 2018;
- to measure the return on investment of the alcohol control policy interventions implemented in Lithuania between 2016 and 2018;
- to compare the trends in alcohol-attributable harm in Lithuania with surrounding countries for the years 2010-2020.
The findings will be presented at a series of expert workshops and conferences, as well as in peer-reviewed publications and media events. An early result of the project has shown that the tax increase on alcohol on March 1 2017 had a positive impact on all-cause mortality the following year--resulting in 150 fewer lives being lost.
The results of this project is important for countries in North America as well. Lithuania has been one of few high income countries implementing these strong and recommended alcohol policies. Other high income regions of the world will learn from these studies, not only how many lives can be saved if alcohol becomes more expensive and less available, but also the economic consequences of such moves.
"We are glad that the US government supports this research," said Dr. Rehm. The results will also be helpful for Canada, where we struggle with alcohol control policies, and where it is erroneously assumed that such policies automatically impact negatively on the economy. Our research will be able to give results not only in terms of lives saved, but also on detailed economic impacts for societies as a whole."