Objective: To determine whether population levels of consumption of some alcoholic beverages are more closely associated with levels of harm than are others. In particular, it was hypothesised that consumption of cask wine would be more strongly related to rates of acute alcohol problems than consumption of bottled wine as a consequence of the extremely low rates of federal tax levied on the former.
Design: A database of measures of alcohol consumption and related problems which can be accurately located in both space and time was established for 130 areas of Western Australia. Demographic and economic data for these areas were included from the 1991 Census. Measures of alcohol consumption were derived from the annual returns of all liquor licensees in the State which indicate total purchases of beer (low and high strength), wine and spirits for the past financial year. Empirically derived assumptions regarding the mean wholesale price of cask and bottled wine were utilised. Regression analyses were conducted to examine the extent to which the consumption of different alcoholic beverages predicted levels of major varieties of harm.
Results: Only cask wine and high strength beer consumption were significantly associated with rates of night time assault; consumption of all beverage varieties except bottled wine were significantly associated with rates of acute alcohol related morbidity. Further analyses, which included controls for an effect of total alcohol consumption, confirmed the pronounced contributions of cask wine and high strength beer to rates of night assaults and of acute alcohol related morbidity. The proportion of all alcohol consumed as low alcohol beer was significantly negatively associated with these harms.
Conclusion: Those alcoholic beverages the consumption of which is most associated with rates of night-time assaults and acute alcohol related morbidity are those with the lowest level of federal taxation per standard drink i.e. cask not bottled wine and regular strength not low alcohol beer. Such a policy on alcohol taxation does not promote public health and safety in Australia.