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Minimum price of alcohol plan to help UK binge drinking

By source, Nov 28, 2012 | | |
  1. source
    View attachment 29975 Ministers are proposing a minimum price of 45p a unit for the sale of alcohol in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle problem drinking.

    The Home Office has launched a 10-week consultation on the plan, arguing it will help reduce the levels of ill-health and crime related to alcohol.

    It is also considering banning multi-buy promotions, such as two-for-the-price-of-one.

    The 45p proposal is 5p higher than the figure suggested by ministers in March.

    It comes after pressure has been mounting on the government to follow Scotland's lead, where 50p has been proposed.

    The aim of a minimum price would be to alter the cost of heavily-discounted drinks sold in shops and supermarkets. It is not expected to affect the price of drinks in many pubs.

    The Home Office said the consultation was targeted at "harmful drinkers and irresponsible shops".

    A spokesman added: "Those who enjoy a quiet drink or two have nothing to fear from our proposals."

    The 45p minimum would mean a can of strong lager could not be sold for less than £1.56 and a bottle of wine below £4.22.

    Research carried out by Sheffield University for the government shows a 45p minimum would reduce the consumption of alcohol by 4.3%, leading to 2,000 fewer deaths and 66,000 hospital admissions after 10 years.

    The number of crimes would drop by 24,000 a year as well, researchers suggested.

    There has been evidence of some outlets selling alcohol at a loss to encourage customers through the doors, with cans of lager going for 20p and two-litre bottles of cider available for under £2.


    Ministers have been particularly critical of such practices, blaming them for what has been dubbed "pre-loading", where people binge-drink before going out.

    They have linked this phenomenon to the rising levels of alcohol-related violence and hospital admissions, of which there are more than a million a year.

    But the idea of introducing a minimum price - first proposed at 40p in the government's alcohol strategy published in March - has been met with opposition by the industry.

    The Scottish government plan, which is not due to start until April 2013, was challenged on legal grounds by the Scotch Whisky Association and the European Spirits Organisation.

    They claimed it was up to Westminster, rather than Holyrood, to decide such an issue and they said it was also incompatible with the EU's "general principles of free trade and undistorted competition".

    The legal challenges were heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh last month and a judgement is expected before the end of the year.

    Separately the European Commission is looking into the legality of the Scottish government's actions.

    In Northern Ireland, consideration is also being given to minimum pricing, although no final decision has been taken yet.

    Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Most major retailers believe minimum pricing and controls on promotions are unfair to most customers. They simply penalise the vast majority, who are perfectly responsible drinkers, while doing nothing to reduce irresponsible drinking.

    "The government should recognise the role of personal responsibility. It should not allow interfering in the market to regulate prices and promotions to become the default approach for public health policy."

    Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, agreed, saying there was "no evidence" minimum alcohol pricing would be effective in tackling alcohol misuse.

    But health campaigners believe a minimum price is an important step in tackling problem drinking.

    Dr Vivienne Nathanson, from the British Medical Association, said the changes in pricing could help to stop young people binge drinking.

    She told the BBC: "Alcohol is a dose-related poison, in other words the more you drink the more harm it causes, so by reducing the amount they are drinking over the safe limit you are helping to save them.

    "It isn't a small minority of the population who are drinking excessively, it's nearly a quarter. That's a huge number of people who are drinking at levels that are hazardous to their health and we really have to throw everything we can (at it) to save lives."

    Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "We're paying a heavy price for alcohol misuse and setting a minimum unit price will help us on the road to changing this.

    "But we cannot cut the misery caused by excessive drinking, whether it's crime or hospitalisation, through price alone.

    "We need tighter controls around licensing, giving local authorities and police forces all the tools they need to get a firm grip on the way alcohol is being sold in their area. We have an opportunity to make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people - we must seize it."


    The 45p effect

    On the face of it, there seems to be little difference between the 45p minimum unit price for alcohol now being proposed and the 40p figure put forward earlier this year.

    But in terms of consumption levels - and the subsequent criminal and health costs - the shift is significant.

    Research by Sheffield University shows that at 45p consumption drops by 4.3% - a 75% greater effect than would be seen at 40p.

    In terms of deaths over a 10-year period, the impact is nearly double. A 45p minimum will save over 2,000 lives compared to under 1,200 for 40p. The effect on crime is also two-fold.

    But what the research also shows is that another 5p on the minimum price to bring it to 50p - as Scotland has done - would see a similar increase in impact, which is why campaigners have been pushing for more.

    Another area of interest - and possible controversy - is the effect this will have on moderate drinkers.

    The research shows a 45p minimum price also affects their buying habits, reducing consumption by 2.3%. That is greater than the reduction likely to be seen in young hazardous drinkers - the so-called binge drinkers.

    By Nick Triggle
    Health correspondent, BBC News, 28th November 2012.


  1. Isodimorphism
    I'd be very interested to see this study from Sheffield University. Unfortunately, the BBC doesn't seem to have given a link to it. Is it on PubMed?

    About the proposed law: in theory, I'm dead against this kind of thing. No matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, our politicians still think that they can solve all of society's deeply-ingrained problems with a simple act of legislation. Arrogance of the highest degree, and an affront to traditional English ideas about the role of government. Nowhere more than in the world of drugs is it clearer that there are limits to the powers of government, things it simply can't do. When will politicians learn?

    That being said, Britain does have a horrible problem with alcohol. It's not so much the total amount that's consumed, but the way in which it's consumed: too much is consumed at once, and too many drunks are on the streets at the same time. It's a major factor in crime and hospital admissions (both directly, from poisoning and liver damage, and indirectly, from violence and accidents). Some kind of harm reduction is needed. Unfortunately, this is a cultural problem, and I'm sceptical about whether a small rise in the price of booze is going to stop people from thinking it's cool to drink more than they can handle and end up getting into a fight. Won't they just spend a bigger proportion of their income on it?

    The one potential benefit I can see is reducing the price difference between alcohol bought at a supermarket and alcohol bought at the pub; it would be nice to see pubs getting more revenue.

    But I can't help but wonder what the effect on alcohol consumption would be if other drugs were legalised. Would people drink so much if it weren't the only legal way to get high (that most people know about)? I do hope that some studies are done on levels of binge-drinking in Washington and Colorado after the end of cannabis prohibition. Maybe I'm being over-optimistic, but it would be nice if increased availability and acceptability of cannabis led to a reduction in irresponsible levels of drinking.

    I was almost falling into the trap of alcoholism before I was informed of the easy availability of research chemicals. Since I got hold of some 3-meo-pcp, I haven't touched a drop of booze, and feel much better for it. It just doesn't seem attractive any more. Instead of drinking whiskey every day, I'm taking 15mg of 3-meo-pcp every couple of weeks; this is easier on both my health and my pocket.

    But now our unelected government advisers are now suggesting that dissociative RCs should be banned; time to stock up.
  2. nitehowler
    Just another big money grab.

    Happened in Australia over the last couple of years and does nothing to reduce alcohol consumption just creates people needing more money with a result of people breaking into houses and armed robbery.
    Blood sucking governments.
    Buy or make a distillation unit and make your own better grog.
    In australia reflux stills are available that produce 95% or 180 proof alcohol at a cost of $2 or 1.5pounds per litre ( watered down to 40% or 80 proof) you can't go wrong.(google up still spirits) the initial out lay for everything is not real expensive .
  3. Isodimorphism
    It isn't a tax, so the government won't get any money out of it. If anything, they might lose money if people buy less alcohol.

    Shops might benefit because they don't have to compete with each other on price and can get a bigger profit margin, but even that's not certain; cheap booze can be a loss leader.
  4. storkfmny
    They are only driving people to the black market. You say there isn't really much of a black market for alcohol? Well there is now.
    Same thing as when prohibition in the U.S. was enacted, black market, and it wasn't pretty. Every time governments decide to legislate behavior, it goes bad.
  5. Basoodler

    Many states have minimum pricing now. There hasn't been a reduction in binge drinking nor has there been an increase in "black market booze."

    It may have increased the rate of petty theft in regards to alcohol... making black market booze would require a stil or smuggling alcohol from a country who has lower prices. Alcohol is pretty damn bulky and cumbersome which would make it difficult to smuggle in large quantities. I think it would take a ridicules price hike or prohibition to cause a sizable black market to form.

    Even then.. its cheaper to smuggle powders or plant life
  6. beejee
    why o why is our government so retarded, for a start;

    1.) There needs to be a clear divide between alcoholics and binge drinking.

    2) If you want someone to do what you want, you need them to want to do it, raising prices is just gonna send a counterproductive message, basically just gonna piss everyone off, could make people drink more.

    3.) The best way to encourage people to not binge drink is to promote bars to open later. At the moment, the average binge drinker will aim to be wasted before the pub shuts, approx 11. if the general consensus was that "we don't need to get wasted before the pub shuts, cos the pub aint gonna shut", the speed at which people would drink would not be as fast, therefore binge drinking won't seem as good an idea, and will slowly become unfashionable.

    Im pretty sure theres loads of examples around the world of this, pretty sure spain is a good one.
  7. Isodimorphism
    Now that I think about it, the most likely result of this legislation is that shops make other special offers to entice customers. "Buy x, get y for half price" is already common in supermarkets. People tend to like savoury snacks when they're drinking, so I can foresee a lot of "buy a six-pack, get a 225g bag of Doritos or salted peanuts for £0.50", unless there's also legislation to prevent this. Supermarkets will do their best to find a way around any law that threatens their profits.
  8. Routemaster Flash
    This is a typical knee-jerk, sticking-plaster attempt by a UK government to control a problem that has deep-seated cultural and socio-economic causes.

    Basically, increasing the cost of the cheapest alcoholic drinks to try and stop people drinking excessively assumes several things. First, it assumes that only poor people are alcoholics, which simply isn't true. Plenty of middle-class people drink far too much and the drinking habits of rich City boys are infamous. Another thing it assumes is that simply increasing the price of booze will make people drink less. This is probably true for recreational drinkers but hardcore alcoholics won't drink less - they'll just have less money to spend on fripperies like rent, bills and food.

    All point-of-sale taxes (yes this isn't a tax but it has the same effect) are regressive taxes, since because they're the same for everyone they naturally affect poor people far more than wealthy people. It's all of a piece with the extremely anti-progressive agenda of the current government but it's the same patrician we-know-best morality that previous Labour governments have displayed.
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