The Government want to put up the prices of bargain booze. Photo credit: William Christiansen http://www.flickr.com/photos/william_christiansen/6506073385/
Home Secretary Theresa May announced a new policy to put a minimum price of 40p per unit on alcohol, Friday morning.
Is this a “war on binge drinkers” , which will “DOUBLE the price of cheap high-strength booze”, as The Sun boomed? Is it another incursion into our personal freedom and “the biggest public health intervention since the smoking ban,” as The Guardian claimed? Or is a sensible way to curb Britain’s famed binge drinking problem, which the Daily Mail thinks is long overdue?
And with a ban on sales of alcohol below the rate of duty plus VAT due to be enforced from 6 April 2012, how high could the price of booze go?
A nation of drunks? Exactly what constitutes binge drinking has long been in debate – the World Health Organisation offers the somewhat vague definition of “A pattern of heavy drinking that occurs in an extended period set aside for the purpose” – but some health monitors seem to agree that Britain has a problem with it. The General Lifestyle Survey 2008 showed that 21 percent of men and 14 percent of women drank more than double the daily unit guidelines on at least one day in the previous week, according to drinkaware.co.uk. The Institute of Alcohol Studies quote a Home Office Survey which found 44 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds to be binge drinkers, while recent studies indicate that almost a quarter of the middle and professional classes in Britain are drinking “heavily” at least one night a week.
PM to tackle mayhem on our streets. Prime Minister David Cameron backed the pricing rise, declaring, in a statement released by No. 10, “Binge drinking isn’t some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country. The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear in our communities. My message is simple. We can’t go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now.”
Police back policy. Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, the lead on alcohol for the Association of Chief Police Officers told the BBC: “Week in week out in town centres across the country the police have to deal with the consequences of cheap alcohol and irresponsible drinking. The growing trend for ‘pre-loading’ means that young people are often drunk before they even enter a bar.”
“There’s a tsunami of alcohol harm at the moment, caused largely by the huge availability of very cheap alcohol on supermarket shelves,” declared Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the Guardian.
Retailers blame cultural causes, not pricing. But Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said the proposal was “seriously misguided” and that it was “simplistic to imagine a minimum price is some sort of silver bullet solution to irresponsible drinking.” He blamed “cultural causes” , stressed industry efforts to educate people about the dangers of alcohol and called the measure “a tax on responsible drinkers,” according to the BBC. Anthropologist Kate Fox also advocated cultural change on BBC Radio 4′s Four Thought last October.
Lansley objects to this policy. Sarah Boseley reported in the Guardian that health secretary Andrew Lansley has “consistently lined up with the industry on unit pricing”, instead going for a “responsibility deal” with drinks companies, pubs, restaurants and supermarkets improving labelling and awareness, but this “pointless” approach was rejected by health organisations, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Liver Trust.
But even Theresa May is unsure how many units she drinks. The Home Secretary attracted criticism after she was unable to confirm her own weekly unit consumption when questioned on BBC Breakfast.
Twitter reacts – not positively. May’s talk of “pre-loading” was ridiculed on Twitter, with tweets such as: “@AssiyaK It is not preload…..it’s prelash! Get with the times Theresa May” and “@RopesToInfinity Weird hearing Theresa May talking about ‘preloading’. Was hoping she’d mention getting ‘wankered’ for a ‘messy’ night of ‘fackin’ carnage’.” @harry_fraser made an interesting point when he asked: “Question to David Cameron & Theresa May, does minimum pricing affect the House of Commons subsidised bar? #nannystate.”
Impact of this change? The Government claims that the “40p a unit minimum price could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 9,000 fewer alcohol related deaths over the next decade”, reported the Guardian. Academics at the University of Sheffield estimate that a minimum price of 45p a unit coupled with an off-trade discount ban already in place would reduce annual hospital admissions by 1,660 in the first year, rising to 6,630 a year after a decade, and cut the number of deaths by 60 in the first year, rising to 300 by year 10 of the policy.
Could it be higher? Alcohol Concern is now campaigning for a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol. And on Radio 4 this morning, May intimated that the Government was still consulting on the exact price and so it could be higher than 40p per unit, reported the Telegraph.
Will it go through? The Guardian reports that aim is to introduce legislation in autumn after a summer consultation, with the minimum price coming into force in 2014. However, the drinks industry is likely to fight back, following the example of the tobacco industry, and take the matter to the European Court of Justice, as it may breach EU competition laws.
The Home Office’s previous attempts to curb binge drinking in British young people. It might not have had the desired effect: One viewer commented, “If she came home like that she must have had a f*cking EPIC night out!!”
More on Government and alcohol
- Coalition’s Alcohol Strategy: David Cameron mulls US-style Drunk Tanks, minimum pricing measures
- Are the elderly Britain’s ‘invisible’ army of alcohol addicts?
- Should teens be sold high-energy drinks on Friday night?
- Government ‘nudge’ approach to health criticised in House of Lords report
- The Takeaway: Six key points from the UK Budget