Aims (i) To compare actual developments of alcohol-related harm in Sweden with estimates derived prior to major policy changes in 1995 and (ii) to estimate the effects on consumption and alcohol-related harm of reducing alcohol prices in Sweden.
Design Alcohol effect parameters expressing the strength of the relationship between overall alcohol consumption and different alcohol-related harms were obtained from ARIMA (Auto Regressive Integrated Moving Average) time-series analyses.
Measurements Measures of Swedish alcohol-related mortality (liver cirrhosis, alcoholic psychosis, alcoholism and alcohol poisoning), accident mortality, suicide, homicide, assaults and sickness absence from 1950 to 1995.
Findings Previous estimates of alcohol-related harm based on changes in alcohol consumption for the period 1994–2002 for Sweden were, in some cases (e.g. violent assaults and accidents), relatively close to the actual harm levels, whereas in other cases (e.g. homicides, alcohol-related mortality and suicide) they diverged from observed harm levels. A tax cut by 40% on spirits and by 15% on wine is estimated to increase total per capita alcohol consumption by 0.35 litre. This increase is estimated to cause 289 additional deaths, 1627 additional assaults and 1.6 million additional sickness absence days.
Conclusions The estimates of future changes in harm based upon even relatively modest increases in alcohol consumption produce considerable negative effects, with large economic consequences for the Swedish economy. The additional alcohol-related deaths, for instance, amount to more than half the number of yearly traffic fatalities in Sweden.