By philipedwards, Jan 25 2018 09:54AM
A step in the right direction?
The UK Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Scotland introducing a minimum price for alcohol. This law was suggested in Scotland over 5 years ago but has been delayed by the efforts of the Scotch Whisky Association who claim that the law goes against EU laws allowing free movement of goods1. The Scottish government claims that alcohol is now 54% cheaper than it was in 1980 and that it is possible to exceed the recommended 14 units per week guideline for just £3!1 It is thought that this new legislation could be implemented by early next year and Scotland could become one of the first counties in the world to establish a minimum price for alcohol by unit.
Similarly, the Welsh government has announced plans last month to introduce a new law setting a standard price per alcohol unit2. Research from the University of Sheffield has suggested that this would save one life every week and would prevent fourteen hundred hospital admissions3. This is thought to represent a potential saving of £6.5 million to the NHS3. The new legislation would not be implemented as a tax but would instead provide a minimum unit pricing as a means of discouraging the sale of cheap strong alcohol.
Choices to be made
Alcohol enjoys a monopoly position protected by laws and the court system. Advertising and marketing of Alcohol is heavily funded by the alcohol industry which enjoys rich profits. It is therefore not surprising that Alcohol is by far the most popular drug in Britain, killing more people in the UK and across the planet than all other drugs combined4. Yet alcohol also plays a valuable role in the private lives of many people.
So, there is a choice to be made. How should we as a society respond to the problem of alcohol? It is clear that reducing alcohol consumption could have a massive impact on the overall health of the population2. At first glance therefore, almost any initiative claimed to reduce drinking seems laudable and worthy of consideration.
Minimum pricing is designed to target heavy drinkers. Research suggests
42% of high-risk drinkers in poverty drink a cheaper variety of alocohol3
26% of the population drink more than 14 units a week, and are responsible for 72% of alcohol consumed3.
The new legislation is designed to target heavy drinkers. Yet, for many heavy drinkers, alcohol consumption is relatively price inelastic. Importantly, this policy would significantly affect the pockets (but not necessarily the needs or habits) of people with a lower income, and would not affect many heavy drinkers with higher incomes. There is very real concern that more repressive pricing would simply cause further economic turmoil for many individuals and families already badly affected by alcohol abuse and addiction.
While the effect on the health of ͚problem͛ or heavy drinkers is questionable, there is also little expectation of significant effects on moderate drinkers1.
We need better alternatives
Pressure to address the problem of alcohol abuse in the UK provides the perfect opportunity to enable people to have access to healthier options. But continued subservience to alcohol as a de facto monopoly in the adult drinks market leaves the politicians (of both major parties) with nowhere to go except more restriction. It is therefore almost predictable that government initiatives tend only towards further burden and interference in the private lives and behaviours of the population.
Policies in the UK ignore and side-line the wider opportunity to enable people to have more agency in improving their own lives. This is in stark contrast to recent but growing momentum in parts of Europe and North America towards removing long-established barriers for people to make better and more sensible health choices for themselves.
Alcarelle is working on the development of alternatives to alcohol. We believe that great progress in science points the way to more enlightened possibilities. We want consumers to enjoy access to adult beverages that provide for the enjoyment that alcohol can bring, but without the massive harms that alcohol creates.
3.Meng Y., Sadler, S., Gell, L., Holmes, J. and Brennan, A. (2014) 'Model-based appraisal of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Wales: An adaptation of the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model version 3’University of Sheffield.
4.David J Nutt, Leslie A King, Lawrence D Phillips, Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis, In The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9752, 2010, Pages 1558-1565, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61462-6.