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Binge Drinking in Wales; Trends in Alcohol Consumption Across OECD Countries

Posted Apr 13 2010 12:00am

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a fascinating article on the increase in binge drinking with special attention to Cardiff, Wales (see: U.K. Drinking Problem Gets Political ; subscription required). One of the take-home lesson in it was that much of the excessive drinking by the youth in the U.K. was related to cheap alcoholic beverages offered in supermarkets, causing the pubs compete by lowering their prices. Contained in the article was a fascinating chart tracking alcohol consumption in OECD countries. I present it here for your review.

Spend a little time examining these data. Here are just a few of my own observations and questions:

  • Note the decline in alcohol consumption in Turkey as the country has moved from a secular political orientation to broader adoption of Islam.
  • I was under the impression that alcohol consumption was high in most Scandinavian countries, but it's actually relatively low in Sweden and Norway. I wonder if these countries have taken steps in to reduce consumption. Denmark and Finland seem to be the exception to this rule with consumption closer to continental Europe among the OECD countries.
  • I wonder if the substantial rise and decline in Iceland is due, in part, to its recent meteoric economic rise in affluence and subsequent crash?
  • I am not sure how to explain the fact that some of the EU countries plus the U.K. lead the pack in the alcohol race. Among them, France seems to be making some progress in decreasing consumption. 
  • Although binge drinking, a major thrust of the article, can result in serious social problems, the long-term health problems are even more serious. They were not addressed in the article.
  • Like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption can be controlled, in part, by higher excise taxes. The U.K seems to be going in the wrong direction with competition for the lowest priced alcoholic beverages. Previous blog notes have raised the issue of taxes on soda pop by state legislatures and the federal government (see: State Taxes on Soda Pop Gain Momentum; Does the End Justify the Means? ; Federal Tax on Soda Pop Proposed: Can This Be Justified? ).
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