Alcohol tax cuts and increase in alcohol-positive sudden deaths—a time-series intervention analysis


Kari Poikolainen, The Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, PO Box 220, FI-00531 Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:


Aims  The impact of alcohol regulation changes in Finland during 2004 on alcohol-positive sudden deaths was analysed, focusing on: (1) removal of traveller's allowance quotas on alcohol imports from other European Union (EU) countries, (2) lowering of Finnish alcohol excise duty rates and (3) Estonia joining the EU.

Design  The impact of these changes was estimated using an autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) analytical technique. Post-mortem forensic toxicology data were analysed over a 15-year period to account for seasonal and long-term variation. In all, the data comprised a weekly series of 33 782 alcohol-positive cases (at least 0.20 mg/g alcohol in blood) and a control series of 37 617 alcohol-negative cases.

Setting  Finland in 1990–2004.

Findings  The liberation of traveller's allowances had no material impact on alcohol-positive sudden deaths, but the impact of alcohol tax cuts in March 2004 was significant, resulting in an estimated eight additional alcohol-positive deaths per week, which is a 17% increase compared with the weekly average of 2003. The impact associated with Estonia joining the EU was not statistically significant. In the models applied to the control series of alcohol-negative deaths, none of the impact coefficients was statistically significant.

Conclusions  Alcohol tax cuts were associated with an increase in the number of sudden deaths involving alcohol. This parallels the reported increases in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related causes of death in 2004 in Finland.