So, once more, the national newspaper headlines were driven by glamorous numbers and talk of introducing legislation, rather than a call for action on a root cause.
A study by the University of Sheffield, published in industry health bible the British Medical Journal (BMJ), drew tabloid journalists lured in by the claim that introducing minimum pricing would be “50 times more effective” than a ban on below cost selling.
A minimum price per unit of 45p, the report claims, could have prevented 624 deaths and more than 23,500 hospital admissions a year. It would work, the report goes on, because it would target the “5.3% of people who are harmful drinkers because they buy the greatest share of cheap alcohol”.
What the report doesn’t go on to say is what will happen to those drinkers priced out of the market by this proposed minimum price. Will they just stop drinking? Or will they seek out other ways to get hold of cheap alcohol?
Minimum pricing is a solution to one problem. If it could save so many lives, then who are we to argue with it? But by solving one problem, does it ignore a much bigger one?
A week after the news of the BMJ report, the FWD and ACS announced that they had held a joint meeting with exchequer secretary Priti Patel, former chair of the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group.
The meeting looked at tackling illicit alcohol, reiterating the importance of the new wholesale registration scheme (mentioned in my last column), and the work of HMRC in helping reduce the amount of non-UK duty paid alcohol in circulation.
It might not necessarily get the wider media interested, but meetings like this are crucial.
If people are drinking to harmful levels simply because they’re buying the cheapest alcohol, there is nothing to stop them looking for this from illegal avenues if they’re priced out of the legitimate market. It’s what is happening with tobacco. Working on the root cause is a more than a good thing – it’s essential.