Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Minimum Pricing ... the silver bullet?

Just doing a trawl of the big three supermarkets this morning and average price for can of Stella (4.8% ABV) is 91 pence, which, according to DrinkAware's online calculator is 2.1 units, therefore unit price 43p. (I'm sure that's the math ...)

Similarly from the respective retailer's budget brands, Vodka, 70 cl (28 x 25 ml shots – normal pub measure) average price 33p a shot, again DrinkAware says that a 25 ml shot is 0.9 units, so it’s 37p per unit.

The story is the same for white wine (Chenin Blanc, ABV 12%, 125 ml glass) comes out at 61p a glass which at 1.5 units is a unit price of 41p.

Mean average for all the drinks? 40p a unit.

So minimum pricing at 40p won’t really have that much effect in terms of this type of drink, where it will have an effect is in some of the very cheap cider, for instance Frosty Jack (7.5% ABV) 2 litres at Tesco £3.79, DrinkAware says a 2 litre bottle is 15 units, therefore unit price is 25p.

I suspect that the majority of “binge” drinkers, who pre-load before hitting town (and on-trade venues) will be drinking the former drinks at 40p a unit already. 

Now if the minimum price was pegged against the national average on-trade price it might make a difference, for instance the average price of a pint in UK (according to is £2.90, which would make 4% Stella in the pub £1.26 per unit.

I would suspect that simple Keynesian economic theory of supply and demand would kick in here if unit price was to triple for off-trade (to bring it into line with on-trade) and demand might fall.

I'll not go into the ins and outs of health issues relating to alcohol consumption, not being a health professional, apart from saying that "moderation" is probably a good mantra (as with most things in life).

However, much has been written about the correlation between alcohol pricing and anti-social behaviour and as an industry veteran of over 30 years I have first hand experience of this issue. In reply to an enquiry I made about research into this issue, Kent Matthews, The Sir Julian Hodge Professor of Banking & Finance Cardiff Business School (who has researched this) has this to say:
"The relationship between alcohol and violence is well documented in the medical literature but the causation between alcohol consumption and violence is difficult to prove.
Some violent people drink a lot, others drink in anticipation of a fight (football violence) and then others will have characteristics that are correlated with both drinking and violence. Therefore there may be 2-way causation between drinking and violence.
The thing about using the price of alcohol (beer and lager as proxies) is that the causation must be one-way. Violent injury cannot cause the price of beer (and lager) but the price of beer (and lager) affects consumption which could cause violent injury.
So using the price of beer as a determinant of violent injury (controlling for other factors) provides a stronger argument for causation." 
Or put simply "the more you pay for beer the less you drink and the less you scrap". 

You, along with the rest of us, have to make your own mind up about this, I can only speak from 30+ years experience in the Licensed Trade and say that headline grabbing by politicians and health groups will not solve the problem … until we have better alcohol education we’ll not make any inroads into this societal problem.

As I reported on this blog last year The Alcohol Educations Research Council's (AERC) main aims are to:  
“Generate and disseminate research based evidence to inform and influence policy and practice” and “to develop the capacity of people and organisations to address alcohol issues.”
Both worthy aims and the AERC has, during the last five years, concentrated on family interventions, community action programmes and screening plus brief interventions for alcohol misuse. They are a repository of a vast library of reports and research into the effects of alcohol that both government and industry readily draw upon. 

The Coalition’s response to this sterling work? Turn it into a charitable trust and we know how well charities do during hard times – especially if they're not the cuddly / furry types. Good call Mssrs Clegg and Cameron; at least they’ll be able to use dogma and prejudice to determine their alcohol harm reduction policy without the inconvenience of a publicly funded body calling them to account. After all the AERC will just be another bleeding heart charity soon!

It really is time for some "joined up thinking" on the issue of alcohol (ab)use but as with much this administration is undertaking "joined up" clearly isn't in their vocabulary and minimum pricing (especially at the level mooted) on its own simply isn't going to work. One thing I do know, however, is that demonising drink(ers) and pubs won't help and allowing the off-trade to continue to flout the Licensing Act's provisions about responsible retailing won't help either. 

I view some of the off-trade much as I view unscrupulous arms dealers in this respect, as long as there's an End User Certificate in place (such as a Premises Licence) what actually happens to the products they sell, how they are used and by whom are of absolutely no consequence to them.

To quote Yuri Orlov (a character in the Film "Lord of War"): 
"There are two types of tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want, the other is getting it"

For the truth about how much we, as a nation drink Channel Four has done a Fact Check

Vote in the poll on Minimum Pricing - Poll closed 75% said it won't work!


Curmudgeon said...

A lot of it is to do with social norms, though. France and most Meditarranean countries have cheaper off-trade alcohol than we do, but also have much less alcohol-related disorder.

Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland have much dearer off-trade alcohol, and severe restrictions on availability, but still have high levels of alcoholism, extreme binge drinking and death from alcoholic poisoning.

Publican Sam said...

I quite agree ... we are not alone