Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: hitting the Scots where it hurts

Who'd have thought it would be Scotland that would come up with a puritanical, penny-pinching and somewhat empty gesture? But there is is: the plan for minimum alcohol pricing.

Cut price offers encouraging bulk buying are also to be banned along with money saving promotions like "3 for 2" deals.

The display and marketing of drink is to be restricted to specific areas within off sales premises.

To be honest, apart from allowing the SNP to be seen to be doing something, I doubt it will make much difference. Sure, it will make life that bit more difficult for retailers.It might, if the Scots whisky trade is to be believed, have the unintended consequence of harming one of the country's most profitable industries. Depending on how draconian the minimal price is, it might significantly disadvantage every drinker because of the actions of the minority.

One figure bandied about is that from a University of Sheffield study: "a minimum price of 40p per unit caused overall consumption to fall by 2.6%, with larger decreases amongst young drinkers and excessive drinkers". If someone's drinking is going to be significantly affected by an 80p can of lager then I suggest that the price of drink is the last thing you or they want to be worrying about. I also note in passing that this sort of pricing would still make shop-bought drink much cheaper than a pint in a pub: so not much help for the poor old publican who is still being clobbered by the smoking ban.

This whole business of singling out cheap booze as the villain of our days, rather than a small nutmeg of consolation, is that it hopelessly muddles up cause and effect. From the Times report:

Ms Sturgeon said the government wanted to hit “low-cost, high-alcohol” products, such as ciders and beers, which she described as “the products of choice for young drinkers”. Despite their hopes of targeting young people, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, admitted that tonic wines, such as Buckfast, would probably not be affected by the proposals.

So not so much action on alcopops or the neds' drink of choice - Buckie. (For those who don't really understand the peculiar potency of this drink, this should enlighten you). Besides, the real problem with Buckfast drinkers is not that they are damaging their health, that's their look-out. It's that they are more likely to make life miserable for everyone else.

But taking away their drink is beside the point really. If someone is the type of person who is going to drink Buckfast (or, as one acquaintance of mine does, Scotsmac), then something is already badly wrong. And fixing that defies glib, headline-grabbing solutions.

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