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The effects of a large reduction in alcohol prices on hospitalizations related to alcohol: a population-based natural experiment


Kimmo Herttua, Population Research Unit, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki, PO Box 18, 00014 Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:


Aims  Finland experienced a large reduction in alcohol prices in 2004 due to in the lowering of alcohol taxes by about one-third and the abolition of duty-free allowances for travellers from the European Union. We examined the effects of these changes on alcohol-related hospitalizations.

Design and participants  Time—series intervention analyses of monthly aggregations of hospitalization for acute and chronic causes among men and women aged 15–39, 40–49, 50–69 and more than 69 years.

Setting  Finland, 1996–2006.

Findings  After the price reduction the chronic hospitalization rate for men increased among those below age 70 years. It was largest among those aged 50–69 years: 22%, which implies an increase of 18.0 monthly hospitalizations per 100 000 person-years, and there was an 11% and 16% (11.5 and 4.8 monthly hospitalizations) increase among those aged 40–49 and 15–39, respectively. Among the women the rate increased by 23% (4.0 monthly hospitalizations) in the 50–69-year-olds, and decreased in the under-40s. The increase in all the population groups was due mainly to an increase in mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol. Acute hospitalizations increased by 17% and 20% (6.2 and 7.0 per month) among men aged 40–49 and 50–69 years, respectively, and by 38% among women aged 50–69 years (2.3 per month).

Conclusions  The results, obtained in a natural experimental setting when trends and seasonal variation had been taken into account, suggest that the reduction in alcohol prices led to increases in alcohol-related hospitalization in certain population groups, mainly among 50–69-year-olds, in Finland.