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Alcohol minimum price

A huge majority of the British population are in agreement on one thing: UK drinking is out of control. At a cost to the NHS of over £2 billion per annum, it’s quite obvious that the current ‘binge drinking’ culture is unsustainable for those doing the drinking and for the NHS.

This issue was raised back in January 2010, when the Labour government came under pressure to impose a minimum price on alcohol. (see All-you-can-drink bans) The report published in early January suggested that a minimum price on alcohol of 50p per unit would save more than 3000 lives per year. Dr. Richard Taylor said:

“The evidence we took showed that minimum pricing was the most effective way forward and at the moment you can sometimes buy beer cheaper than water. Our message is that the price would be put up but only by a little for moderate drinkers. Surely that is a sacrifice to pay for the good health of young people.”

The Coalition’s plan is to introduce a minimum price for alcohol, which would increase the price of a can of lager to a minimum of 38p and a litre bottle of vodka would be a minimum of £10.71. By increasing the price of alcohol, it is hoped that demand will be reduced and this will go some way to tackling the problem of binge drinking.

However, many argue that the proposal will be ineffective. Some believe that the minimum price is not high enough and that such a small increase will have no effect. Others argue that it will only affect small supermarkets and will have a significantly adverse effect on pubs, which are already struggling. Furthermore, a concern is that by raising the price of alcohol, the only people who will suffer are the so-called ‘sensible’ drinkers. Those who go out and binge drink will be largely unresponsive to the higher price.

Articles
How can raising the price of alcohol improve health BBC News, Michelle Roberts (18/1/11)
Pub association responds to alcohol minimum price BBC News (18/1/11)
SNP refuses Britain-wide alcohol minimum price Telegraph, Simon Johnson (19/1/11)
Experts say the new minimum prices on alcohol sales are not enough Wales Online, Abby Alford (19/1/11)
UK drinking ‘is out of control’, two thirds of public believe Guardian, Alan Travis (18/1/11)
Alcohol price plans will only save 21 lives per year, says expert Telegraph, Tom Whitehead (19/1/11)
Supermarkets forced to charge ‘minimum price’ for alcohol in bid to curb binge drinking Mirror News, James Lyons (18/1/11)

Report
Alcohol House of Commons Health Committee (10/12/09)

Questions

  1. Using a diagram, explain how a minimum price control on alcohol will work. What are the likely effects?
  2. Which factors will determine the effectiveness of the minimum price?
  3. Why is it that ‘binge drinkers’ may not be responsive to the higher price?
  4. The Mirror article refers to ‘loss leaders’. What are they and how are they relevant here?
  5. What other policies could be used to tackle binge drinking?
  6. Given that taxes on products such as alcohol and cigarettes raise so much tax revenue for the government, would there be an adverse effect by raising the minimum price on alcohol?
  7. Why is the current drinking culture unsustainable?
  8. Is alcohol a de-merit good? Why is it an example of market failure?
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