by John C. Duffy, Christopher Snowdon
Institute of Economic Affairs
June 16, 2014
Alcohol policy in Britain and many countries aims to reduce per capital alcohol consumption, under the belief that this will reduce heavy, harmful drinking. The cornerstone policies of this approach are advertising bans, licensing restrictions and higher taxes. Campaigners cite the ‘Total Consumption Model’ as justification for implementing policies that affect all drinkers, rather than just the heavy-drinking minority. The theory was devised in the 1950s, based on a statistical correlation between average alcohol consumption and rates of harmful drinking. As researchers have long recognized, the theory is deeply flawed – per capita alcohol consumption largely depends on the amount of heavy drinking in a population, not vice versa. The policies based on the Total Consumption Model bear costs on moderate drinkers while being largely ignored by at-risk drinkers. Alcohol policy would be more effective and equitable if it targeted excessive drinkers rather than the whole population.