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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
Higher beer prices 'cut gonorrhoea rates'
Off licence
Beer prices linked to sexual health
Raising the price of beer leads to a reduction in cases of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea, researchers have said.

The research from the US suggests that raising the price of a six-pack of beer by 20cents would cut gonorrhoea rates by almost 9%.

But the finding has been questioned by sexual health experts in the UK who said driving home the safe sex message was the key to cutting infection rates.

Of the 36 beer tax increases that we reviewed, gonorrhoea rates declined among teens aged 15 to 19 in 24 instances

Dr Kathleen Irwin
Cases of the disease surged by 35% in London last year, but this has been blamed on fewer people using condoms rather than on alcohol.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at gonorrhoea rates between 1981 and 1995 among teenagers and young adults in US states that raised the legal drinking age or increased the state beer tax.

Dr Kathleen Irwin, at the centre's Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases Prevention, said: "Of the 36 beer tax increases that we reviewed, gonorrhoea rates declined among teens aged 15 to 19 in 24 instances.

"Among young adults aged 20 to 24, they declined in 26 instances."

Legal drinking age

Gonorrhoea rates among teenagers dropped in the states that increased their legal drinking age, said Dr Irwin, although it had less of an effect.

She added: "Drinking can influence a person's judgement. For example, when drinking they may be more likely to have sex, to have sex without a condom, to have multiple sex partners, or to have sex with high-risk partners."

Gonorrhoea, a painful and unpleasant infection of the genitals and sometimes the anus, can prove fatal if untreated.

It is usually passed between partners during penetrative sex. It is possible to be infected but not see any symptoms.

Making a direct link like this is probably quite dangerous and simplistic

Brook sexual health advisory clinics
If left untreated gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women which can cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy, where the baby begins to grow in the fallopian tubes, not the womb.

In men, gonorrhoea can cause inflammation of the testicles and the prostate gland, which causes pain. Without treatment the urethra may become narrower.

Dr Catherine Ison, a member of the London Gonococcal Working Group and a reader in medical microbiology at the Imperial College School of Medicine, said it would be very difficult to substantiate the research's findings.

'Provide information'

She added: "It is probably true but I don't know that putting tax up on drink stops people drinking anyway. It is difficult to prove the cause and effect.

"Young people are not using safe sex because they don't think they are going to catch anything. I don't know how strongly that is related to drink."

A spokeswoman for Brook sexual health advisory centres said: "Making a direct link like this is probably quite dangerous and simplistic.

"The important thing is providing sexual information and advice, rather than raising the price of beer."

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18 Feb 00 | Health
Gonorrhoea rates rise by 35%
29 Nov 98 | Health
Sex diseases up among young
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