The government has been under a lot of pressure to tackle the culture of binge drinking. Figures for 2006/7 show that the cost to the NHS of binge drinking was £2.7 billion per year. In response, MPs are calling for a change in government policy towards the alcohol industry, arguing that at present the drinks industry has more control over policy than health experts. So what can be done?
In a report published in early January 2010, the House of Commons Health Select Committee proposed a minimum price per unit of alcohol, tighter controls on advertising and mandatory labelling. A minimum price, the Committee argued, would reduce demand by heavy drinkers who are looking for cheap alcohol. At present, many supermarkets have promotions that involve selling cider and beer at below cost, allowing people to ‘pre-load’ cheaply at home before going out drinking. The report suggested that a minimum price of alcohol of 50p per unit would save more than 3000 lives per year and a minimum price of 40p per unit would save 1100 lives.
Dr. Richard Taylor, an independent MP and member of the Commons Health Select Committee, 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.”
However, those opposed to setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol argue that it would be unfair on moderate drinkers, that it wouldn’t work and that it could even be illegal. Instead, they argue that that government intervention needs to be smarter. It should not target everyone, but solely those groups consuming the most alcohol. The British Beer and Pub Association suggests that 10% of the population consumes 44% of all alcohol.
It appears that the government won’t be following Scotland’s minimum price on alcohol, but will instead impose bans on all-you-can-drink deals and introduce compulsory identity checks. However, supermarket deals don’t appear to have been targeted. Successive governments have failed to tackle this problem sufficiently, but with an election approaching, will this be a proposal that is promoted?
Raise alcohol price to save lives, MPs argue Telegraph, Rebecca Smith (8/1/10)
Commons committee backs minimum alcohol pricing BBC News (8/1/10)
Campagain to tackle cut price alchol The Arran Banner (8/1/10)
Wyre Forest MP calls for alcohol minimum pricing The Shuttle (8/1/10)
Should 50p be minimum price for a unit of alcohol? Have your say BBC News (8/1/10)
BBPA: minimum price would be ineffective Morning Advertiser, Ewan Turney (8/1/10)
Cost of binge drinking doubles for the NHS rises to £2.7 billion Mirror, James Lyons (2/1/10)
Bring in 50p minimum price for alcohol, MPs urge Guardian, Toby Helm (3/1/10)
All-you-can-drink pub offers facing ban BBC News (19/1/10)
Too much of the hard stuff: what alcohol costs the NHS THE NHS Confederation, Issue 193 January 2010
Minimum pricing for alcohol essential, says Health Committee Marketing Week, David Burrows (8/1/10)
Minimum alcohol pricing ‘will affect the poor’ BBC News, Kevin Barron and Gavin Partington debate (8/1/10)
- How is the equilibrium price of alcohol determined?
- Illustrate and explain the effects of the imposition of a minimum price.
- To what extent is a minimum price likely to be effective? How is elasticity likely to play a role in the effectiveness of such a policy?
- Why could the introduction of a minimum price on alcohol be illegal and contravene European competition law?
- What are the arguments for and against a minimum price on alcohol? Explain how and why some people will gain and others will lose.
- How would a minimum price on alcohol affect government spending? Would more investment in prevention lead to a lower cost to the NHS? Explain your answer.
- Why might bans on all-you-can-drink deals be ineffective?