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There are hundreds of pressure groups, charities and Government thinktanks putting across (usually outlandish) opinions to grab headlines and bring a debate further to the forefront. On slow news days these reports get a huge amount of coverage – as was the case this weekend with Alcohol Concern’s claims this weekend around minimum alcohol pricing.
A price-per-unit measure for alcohol is something that has been discussed at length in recent months. Aimed mainly at countering the loss-leading prices charged for cases of lager and bottles of wine by the big supermarkets, a minimum pricing scheme would on the face of it not hinder smaller retailers so much.
Alcohol Concern is advocating a minimum price of 50p per unit. That would put the usual big sellers – standards cans of lager or cider, say – at around the £1 price-mark per can. But what it might do is help stop the bigger stores offering cases of 20 or 24 cans for under £20. Suddenly, buying in bulk from the supermarket might not be such a worthwhile choice for shoppers. Convenience stores and independent retailers will be playing on a level footing in those particular formats, which can only be a good thing.
Looking at this, will minimum pricing achieve the stated aim of stopping binge drinking though? Who are the binge drinkers? To quote Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern: “The beauty of a minimum-price approach is that it only raises the price of the cheapest drinks, and these are the ones typically drunk by young binge drinkers and heavy chronic drinkers.”
If we’re talking about ‘young’ binge drinkers (and by young I assume we’re looking at those on the borderline of legal drinking) then they don’t need to drink much. They’re not binge drinking in the sense that they’re drinking a lot. They’re just buying five or six cans or bottles and drinking it quickly. Arguably the main issue is where they’re drinking it – on street corners or in local parks.
Young people won’t stop drinking because the price has risen by 50p, or £1, or whatever.
So buying four cans from the local shop won’t make any difference to them, as the price won’t alter noticeably. And what of the heavy chronic drinkers? Are they really affected by the price of what they’re buying? I sincerely doubt it. At least, not to the extent where upping the prices of certain drinks will put them off – much like smokers who don’t baulk at paying over £6 for 20 cigarettes. The area of smoking that is growing quickest is roll your own – an area, in part, characterised by value for money. The heavy chronic drinkers will still drink, but just a different product.
Much like the tobacco display ban, which the Government claims will help reduce the amount of young people smoking, a ‘minimum price’ for a unit of alcohol won’t have the desired effect. It will send people elsewhere (the return of the ‘booze run’, perhaps?) or it will slightly alter what people choose to drink.
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