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Prevention of Deaths From Harmful Drinking in the United States: The Potential Effects of Tax Increases and Advertising Bans on Young Drinkers

William Hollingworth, Beth E. Ebel, Carolyn A. McCarty, Michelle M. Garrison, Dimitri A. Christakis, Frederick P. Rivara

Objective: Harmful alcohol consumption is a leading cause of death in the United States. The majority of people who die from alcohol use begin drinking in their youth. In this study, we estimate the impact of interventions to reduce the prevalence of drinking among youth on subsequent drinking patterns and alcohol-attributable mortality. Method: We first estimated the effect of public health interventions to decrease harmful drinking among youth from literature reviews and used life table methods to estimate alcohol-attributable years of life lost by age 80 years among the cohort of approximately 4 million U.S. residents aged 20 in the year 2000. Then, from national survey data on transitions in drinking habits by age, we modeled the impact of interventions on alcohol-attributable mortality. Results: A tax increase and an advertising ban were the most effective interventions identified. In the absence of intervention, there would be 55,259 alcohol-attributable deaths over the lifetime of the cohort. A tax-based 17% increase in the price of alcohol of $1 per six pack of beer could reduce deaths from harmful drinking by 1,490, equivalent to 31,130 discounted years of potential life saved or 3.3% of current alcohol-attributable mortality. A complete ban on alcohol advertising would reduce deaths from harmful drinking by 7,609 and result in a 16.4% decrease in alcohol-related life-years lost. A partial advertising ban would result in a 4% reduction in alcohol-related life-years lost. Conclusions: Interventions to prevent harmful drinking by youth can result in reductions in adult mortality. Among interventions shown to be successful in reducing youthful drinking prevalence, advertising bans appear to have the greatest potential for premature mortality reduction. (J. Stud. Alcohol 67: 300-308, 2006)