To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the minimum amount of money required to purchase the smallest available containers for a wide range of brands in the U.S. The majority of alcoholic beverage categories—particularly spirits—contain brands that can be purchased for very little money. In addition, there are a number of brands for which customers can spend $5.00 or less and buy enough alcohol to become legally intoxicated.
Since low-priced brands are available in most beverage categories, policies that raise taxes on only certain types of alcoholic beverages will not necessarily limit the ability of underage youth to purchase inexpensive alcohol. Therefore, both broad-based pricing policies (e.g., standardized excise taxes across beverage types, minimum pricing) and specific measures to address the availability of alcohol products with low minimum financial outlays are warranted. For example, the ability of youth to access alcohol might be curtailed by regulating the availability of single-serve, ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages, or by setting minimum prices that cover all alcoholic beverages.
Several recent studies suggest that these types of alcohol policies may be effective.6,12,13
These investigations found that establishing a minimal alcohol price6,12
and restricting the sale of single-serve containers13
were effective in reducing alcohol consumption6,12
or reducing rates of neighborhood violent crime.13
More recently, England has proposed14
and Scotland has passed a minimum pricing policy,15
which, as suggested, may be even more effective than merely raising excise taxes because it ensures that there are no low-priced products on the market that may appeal specifically to underage or high-volume drinkers.
Several limitations should be acknowledged. First, little is known about youth access to small alcohol container sizes and how that relates to per-ounce prices or minimum financial outlays. Importantly, alcoholic beverages that can be purchased in larger container sizes but at lower cost are exceptions to the “minimum financial outlay” analyses presented in this paper. Second, the data set was created using stores with posted Internet prices, which do not necessarily represent a systematic store sample. However, these data reflect current Internet prices in the marketplace and therefore lend an essential snapshot of low alcohol pricing in the U.S.11
In addition, Internet prices from store to store for particular brands are similar, as expected with web-based products in which price comparisons are readily available for comparable products.
The minimum financial outlay data show that a wide variety of alcohol brands, across many types of alcoholic beverages, are available at extremely low prices in the U.S. Given that alcohol use and abuse are responsive to price, particularly among adolescents, the prevalence of very low alcohol prices is concerning. Surveillance of alcohol prices, minimum pricing policies, and increased taxes should be considered in the U.S. as part of a public health strategy to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.