Tag: Alcohol taxation

Alcohol-Related Costs and Potential Gains from Prevention Measures in Latvia

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Latvia has the highest per capita registered alcohol consumption rate among EU and OECD countries (OECD, 2024). In this brief, we show that the total budgetary (direct) and non-budgetary (indirect) costs associated with alcohol consumption in Latvia in 2021 amounted to 1.3–1.8 percent of the GDP. Non-financial costs from alcohol abuse amounted to a loss of nearly 90 thousand years spent in good health and with a good quality of life. We assess the potential effects of five alcohol misuse prevention measures, all recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as effective in reducing harmful alcohol consumption – especially when implemented together. Our analysis focuses on the individual effects of each measure and shows that raising the minimum legal age for alcohol purchases and enforcing restrictions on alcohol advertising and marketing are likely to yield the largest reductions in alcohol-related costs, although these effects will take time to fully materialize.


Alcohol consumption is an important risk factor for morbidity and premature death worldwide. It is associated with over 200 diagnoses recorded in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (CDC, 2021), including liver diseases, injuries, malignancies, and diseases of the heart and circulatory system (WHO, 2018). Alcohol consumption at any level is considered unsafe (Burton & Sheron, 2018).

Globally, an average of 3 million people die each year due to alcohol-related harm, accounting for 5.3 percent of all deaths (Shield et al., 2020). In 2019, alcohol consumption was the main risk factor for disease burden in people between 25 and 49 years of age and the second most important risk factor in people aged 10-24 years (GDB, 2019).

Alcohol use is associated not only with health problems but also with social issues, posing risks to people’s safety and well-being. It causes harm not only to the individual but also to family members and society at large (Rehm & Hingson, 2013). Various sectors, including health, justice, home affairs, and social care agencies, are involved in preventing the consequences of alcohol misuse and reducing the harm this causes. This demonstrates the multiple negative impacts of alcohol use on public health and well-being (Flynn & Wells, 2013).

Latvia has the highest per capita registered alcohol consumption rate among the EU and OECD countries (OECD, 2024), and no clear trend of declining levels has been observed in recent years. Moreover, the consumption of spirits, which can potentially cause more harm than other alcoholic beverages (Mäkelä et al., 2011), is steadily increasing. According to WHO data (WHO, 2024), the high per capita consumption of registered absolute alcohol in Latvia, compared to other countries, is largely due to the consumption of spirits. In Latvia, the share of spirits in total consumption is around 40 percent. By comparison, in the Czech Republic and Austria, where total per capita alcohol consumption is similar to Latvian levels, spirits account for only 25 and 16 percent of total consumption, respectively, while the proportions of beer and wine are higher.

This policy brief reports the estimated costs related to alcohol use in Latvia in 2021, based on the study Alcohol Use, its Consequences, and the Economic Benefits of Prevention Measures (Pļuta et al., 2023). It also provides an overview of the expected benefits from implementing preventive measures, such as raising the minimum legal age for buying alcohol and restricting alcohol advertisements.

Costs of Alcohol Use in Latvia

We estimate three types of costs associated with alcohol consumption:

  • Direct costs: These include budgetary costs related to alcohol consumption, such as healthcare, law enforcement and social assistance costs, as well as expenses for public education.
  • Indirect costs: These costs represent unproduced output in the economy and arise from the premature deaths of alcohol users, as well as their reduced employment or lower productivity.
  • Non-financial welfare costs: This type of cost arises from the compromised quality of life of alcohol users, their families, and friends.

We estimate direct costs by utilizing detailed disaggregated data on alcohol-related budget costs in the healthcare sector, law enforcement institutions (including police, courts, and prisons), costs of public education (e.g., educating schoolchildren about the consequences of alcohol consumption), costs of awareness-raising campaigns, and social assistance costs. For cost categories that are only partially attributable to alcohol consumption, we classify only a fraction of these costs as attributable to alcohol use (e.g., liver cirrhosis is attributable to alcohol usage in 69.8 percent of the cases, so only this fraction of the budget costs on compensated medicaments is attributable to alcohol use). To estimate social assistance costs, including public expenditure on social services, sobering-up facilities, social care centres, orphanages, and specialized care facilities for children and out-of-family care, we conduct a survey among social assistance providers.

To estimate non-budgetary costs, we construct a counterfactual scenario where alcohol is not being overly consumed, ensuring higher productivity, a lower rate of unemployment, and lower mortality within the labour force. Finally, non-financial welfare costs are estimated by measuring the reduction in quality of life or QALYs lost (quality-adjusted-life-years) (for details, see the methodology section in Pļuta et al. (2023)).

The total direct and indirect costs of alcohol abuse in 2021 amounted to 1.3–1.8 percent of Latvia’s GDP. In comparison, revenues from the excise tax on alcoholic beverages in 2021 accounted for 0.7 percent of the GDP.

Direct costs, which entail expenses directly covered by the state budget, comprised 0.45 percent of the GDP. Among these costs, healthcare expenses were the largest component, constituting 37.8 percent  of total direct costs and 2.7 percent of general government spending on healthcare. Nearly half of these healthcare costs were attributed to the provision of inpatient hospital treatment for patients diagnosed with alcohol-related conditions. Another significant component of budgetary costs is associated with addressing alcohol abuse and combating illicit trade through law enforcement, accounting for 31.9 percent of total direct costs and 6.5 percent of general government spending on public order and safety.

Alcohol-related indirect costs amount to 0.9-1.3 percent of Latvia’s GDP. Despite not being directly covered by the state budget, they represent unproduced output and thus entail economic losses. The primary components of these indirect costs are linked to decreased output resulting from higher unemployment and reduced economic activity (0.6-0.8 percent of the GDP), as well as decreased output due to premature death among heavy drinkers (0.2-0.4 percent of the GDP). Notably, indirect costs attributed to alcohol misuse by males constitute almost two-thirds of the total indirect costs.

Finally, the non-financial costs from alcohol abuse in 2021 are estimated to reach 88 620 years spent in good health and with a good quality of life. These losses primarily stem from the distress experienced by household members from alcohol users, the decline in the quality of life among alcohol users themselves, and the premature mortality of such individuals.

The Effects of Preventive Measures

We consider five alcohol misuse preventive measures, all of which are included in the list of WHO “best buys” policies that effectively reduce alcohol consumption (WHO, 2017):

  • Reducing the availability of retail alcohol by tightening restrictions on on-site retail hours
  • Raising the minimum legal age for alcohol purchase from 18 to 20 years
  • Increasing excise tax on alcohol
  • Lowering the maximum allowed blood alcohol concentration limit for all drivers from 0.5 to 0.2 per mille (currently 0.2 for new drivers and 0.5 for all other drivers)
  • Restricting alcohol advertising and marketing

Our estimates of the expected reduction in alcohol-related costs resulting from these measures are based on two main components:

  • (1) our own estimates of alcohol-related costs in Latvia, as described above, and
  • (2) external estimates of the impact of the five misuse preventative measures on alcohol consumption derived from existing literature on other countries.

We then apply these external estimates to the calculated alcohol-related costs and Latvian data on alcohol consumption to determine the estimated impact for Latvia (for further details, see the methodology outlined in Pluta et al. (2023)).

Our findings indicate that the most substantial reduction in direct costs attributed to alcohol misuse is anticipated through raising the minimum alcohol purchase age to 20 years (yielding an 11.4-15.8 percent estimated cost reduction). Previous literature has shown that early initiation of alcohol use significantly increases the likelihood of risky drinking, and that risky drinking during adolescence significantly increases the risk of heavy drinking in adulthood (Betts et al., 2018; McCarty, 2004). Hence, raising the minimum legal age for alcohol purchase represents an effective tool to reduce alcohol consumption also among the adult population.

Another highly effective measure to reduce alcohol consumption is imposing restrictions on advertising, which results in a 5.0-8.0 percent estimated reduction of direct costs. There is a large body of literature indicating that alcohol advertising increases alcohol consumption among young people, as well as significantly increases the likelihood of alcohol initiation among adolescents and young adults (Noel, 2019; Jernigan et al., 2017). Also, among the adult population, alcohol consumption decreases with stricter advertising restrictions (see Casswell, 2022; Rossow, 2021).

However, it is important to emphasize that the full impact of both above discussed preventative measures will only manifest in the long run.

The Effect of Illicit Markets

It is often argued that illicit alcohol markets, which provide access to cheaper alternative alcohol than registered commercial markets, can limit the effectiveness of preventive measures on overall alcohol consumption (Rehm et al., 2022).

To explore the interplay between illicit alcohol circulation and alcoholism prevention measures we conduct semi-structured interviews with experts regarding the prevalence of illicit alcohol circulation in Latvia and strategies to mitigate it.

While our main findings emphasize the inherent challenge of precisely quantifying the size of the illicit alcohol market, our analysis suggests that the share of illicit alcohol in total alcohol consumption in Latvia is relatively low. We also conclude that the size of the illicit alcohol market has been diminishing in recent years, and that public interest in engaging with illicit alcohol is declining. Given these findings, the current scope of the illicit market is unlikely to substantially undermine the efficacy of alcohol control measures. This is especially true as the consumers of illicit alcohol represent a specific group minimally affected by legal alcohol control measures in the country.


Our findings underscore the substantial costs associated with the large alcohol consumption in Latvia. In 2021, budgetary (direct) and non-budgetary (indirect) costs reached 1.3–1.8 percent of Latvia’s GDP. Furthermore, non-financial costs from alcohol abuse represent a loss of nearly 90 thousand years spent in good health and with a good quality of life.

Furthermore, non-financial costs from alcohol abuse represent a loss of nearly 90 thousand years spent in good health and with a good quality of life. This stems primarily from the distress experienced by alcohol users’ household members, and the decline in life quality and premature mortality among users themselves.

Latvia stands out as a country with exceptionally high levels of absolute alcohol consumption per capita compared to other countries. Policy makers should implement effective preventive measures against alcohol consumption to maintain the sustainability of a healthy and productive society in Latvia.


This brief is based on a study Alcohol Use, its Consequences, and the Economic Benefits of Prevention Measures completed by BICEPS researchers in 2023, commissioned by the Health Ministry of Latvia (Pļuta et al., 2023).


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Alcohol Consumption and Mortality

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Many studies have shown that alcohol consumption is the main cause of death among working age Russian males and, in particular, among those younger than 40 (see Bhattacharya et al., 2013, Brainerd and Cutler, 2005, Denisova, 2010, Leon et al., 2007, Triesman, 2010, Yakovlev, 2013a, 2013b). A noteworthy example that illustrates this point is the decrease in male mortality rates during the Gorbachev anti-alcohol campaign. During five years of this campaign, which restricted sales and increased the price of alcohol, alcohol consumption fell by 40%. During the same period, male mortality rates fell by 25%. Furthermore, this trend reversed at end of the Gorbachev anti-alcohol campaign with the liberalization of the alcohol market and surge in mortality by the end of 1990s and beginning of 2000s (see Triesman, 2010 and Bhattacharya et al., 2013). These trends appear to be consistent with the idea that access to more alcohol is related to higher rates of male mortality.

Despite recent regulatory measures imposed by the Russian government to end this trend, male live expectancy remains low: it is 4 years below world average and below poor countries, such as North Korea or Yemen.

Figure 1. Alcohol Consumption and Male Mortality Rates

The economic literature emphasizes several features of alcohol consumption that are important for policy makers. First, alcohol, and especially hard alcohol, is a relatively elastic good. This implies that an increase in the price of alcohol as well as other costs (such as time costs) will result in an even larger drop in alcohol consumption relative to the price drop. If they are linked, this should also be associated with a fall in mortality rates (see Cook and Moore, 2000, Leung and Phelps, 1993).

Second, alcohol is a “social” good (Kremer and Levy, 2008, Krauth, 2005, Yakovlev, 2013a). People like to drink with others. Drinking often takes place in groups of peers, and peer decisions on whether to drink or not affect personal decisions related to drinking. Peer effects are especially strong among younger generations. The presence of peer effects implies the presence of a so-called social multiplier: the effect of government policy (for example, alcohol taxation) will be higher in the presence of peer effects. A policy such as a rise in taxation will not only affect an individual by encouraging them to consume less, but also have a spillover effect on his or her peers resulting in them drinking less as well. This should, overall, generate a larger decrease in alcohol consumption than would be the case through the effect on individuals alone (i.e. if people choose to drink based purely on their own preferences without paying attention to their peers or social groups). As it was shown by Yakovlev (2013a), for males below age 30, the peer effect increases the price elasticity of alcohol consumption by 50%. This means that a government policy, such as an increased alcohol tax, should generate a 50% higher decrease in alcohol consumption for the younger generation. Furthermore, this should also lead to an even larger reduction of mortality rates.

A third aspect of alcohol consumption is that alcohol is a habit-forming good (see Cook and Moore, 2000). The consumption of alcohol, as well as consumption of certain types of alcoholic beverages, tends to form habits related to these goods. These habits are strong and they potentially affect personal consumption even decades later. If a person starts to consume alcohol in their youth, this means that they are likely to continue and be more likely to consume alcohol in later years simply because they have a past history of consuming this product.

These three aspects have several policy implications. First, due to habits and peer effects, government policies aiming to reduce mortality rates by decreasing alcohol consumption will potentially have greater impact on younger generations than on older. This is simply because peer effects tend to be stronger among youths, but also because decreased consumption earlier in life will reduce the chances of consuming alcohol later in life and have, as a consequence, even longer term effects on society’s level of alcohol consumption. Thus, policy makers should pay special attention on younger groups of the population, in particular, policy tools such as the restriction of alcohol sales near schools and other educational facilities if the goal is to reduce the negative impact of alcohol on life expectancy. Second, the effect of this policy could be long lasting: once habits form, patterns of consumption could be affected for many years afterwards. In other words, the full effects of a policy aiming to curb alcohol consumption to improve mortality rates will not be immediately observed. Instead, part of the change in the future would be attributed to past changes in alcohol consumption.

Another aspect of alcohol consumption of importance for mortality rates concerns the habits individuals form regarding what types of alcoholic beverages, such as beer or vodka (see Yakovlev, 2013b), they drink. This has policy implications since not all beverages have the same degree of harm. If an individual consumes beer during his or her teens, she or he would likely prefer beer ten (or even more) years later. If she or he starts with vodka, she or he will likely prefer vodka. Moreover, Yakovlev (2013b) shows that beer and vodka are substitutes: an increase in the price of beer will decrease the consumption of beer and increase the consumption of vodka, or vice versa. Because beer is a less harmful alcoholic beverage than vodka, an increase in the relative price of vodka with respect to beer should improve public health to the extent that people switch to consuming a less harmful form. In addition, this effect should be stronger in the long run with individuals forming habits toward beer consumption at the expense of the more harmful vodka and, overall, we should expect morality rates to be improved as a result, although not by as much as in the case when people stop or do not consume alcohol.

There are several other features of alcohol consumption worth mentioning but which will not be addressed in detail in this brief. Alcohol consumption is correlated with not only personal health and well-being, but also with the well-being of others: it is associated with negative externalities such as crime, violence, and traffic accidents etc. Alcohol consumption also exhibits several “non-fully-rational” features such as time inconsistency or myopia (Gruber and Koszegi, 2001). In this case, a restriction on the times when alcohol sales are permitted could be a possible effective policy tool to reduce heavy drinking. This happens because people tend to underestimate how much they would like to drink in the future or want to drink less in the future than they expect, and thus prefer not to store alcohol at home. Finally, alcohol consumption is a substitute for other activities, such as sports (Tsai, 2013). Promoting these activities could encourage people to switch from alcohol consumption to healthier behavior, and, conversely, reducing alcohol consumption could foster greater levels of participation in sports activities.


  • Bhattacharya, Jay, Christina Gathmann, and Grant Miller. 2013. “The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia’s Mortality Crisis” AEJ: Economic Policy 2012
  • Cook, Philip J. and Moore, Michael J. 2000. “Alcohol”, Handbook of Health Economics, in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed. ), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3.
  • Brainerd, Elizabeth and David Cutler, 2005, “Autopsy on an Empire: Understanding Mortality in Russia and the Former Soviet Union.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 107-130,Winter.
  • Denisova, Irina. 2010. “Adult mortality in Russia: a microanalysis”, Economics of Transition, Vol. 18(2), 2010, 333-363.
  • Gruber, Jonathan and Botond K˝oszegi. 2001. “Is Addiction ‘Rational?’ Theory and Evidence.” Quarterly Journal of Economics (2001), 116(4), pp. 1261-1305.
  • Kremer, Michael, and Dan Levy. 2008. “Peer Effects and Alcohol Use among College Students.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(3): 189–206.
  • Krauth, Brian. 2005. “Peer effects and selection effects on smoking among Canadian youth.” Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d’économique, Volume 38, Issue 3, pages 735–757, August 2005.
  • Leon, David, Lyudmila Saburova, Susannah Tomkins, Evgueny Andreev, Nikolay Kiryanov, Martin McKee, and Vladimir M Shkolnikov. 2007. “Hazardous alcohol drinking and premature mortality”
  • Leung S. F., and Phelps, C. E. “My kingdom for a drink…?” A review of estimates of the price sensitivity of demand for alcoholic beverages. In: Hilton, M. E. and Bloss, G., eds. Economics and the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems. NIAAA Research Monograph No. 25, NIH Pub. No. 93–3513. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1993. pp. 1–32.
  • Tsai, 2013, “Peer effects in physical training.” NES, mimeo
  • Yakovlev, Evgeny 2013, “Peers and Alcohol: Evidence from Russia”, NES/CEFIR working paper
  • Yakovlev, Evgeny 2013, “USSR Babies: Who drinks vodka in Russia”, NES/CEFIR working paper