18 thoughts on “Minimum alcohol pricing: a response to the British Medical Journal”

  1. Posted 07/02/2014 at 16:57 | Permalink

    What exactly do you mean when you say that “MUP is an extreme policy”? Extreme by what measure?

    The IEA may be very keen to protect the sales of White Cider, but does it have any alternative mechanism to improve the health impact?

  2. Posted 07/02/2014 at 20:52 | Permalink

    I would suggest it is “extreme” as in extremely unusual. It is not unusual to tax alcohol (though we may have different views on that) but to set a (possibly illegal) minimum price – thereby also potentially creating competition problems to the benefit of big business – is unusual. I am not sure what white cider is so I have never tried to protect its sales but I do believe that the tax playing field is not level and is weighted against beer and wine and in favour of cider and I am not in favour of that (though I would prefer it to be levelled downwards).

    It is also an extreme measure relative to education and information campaigns in this area as a control method and is extreme in its very disproportionate affect on the poor (unlike education campaigns that tend to be financed through taxes by richer people and do not affect the price paid by poorer people and still allow people to make choices). Indeed, if ignorance is the cause of the problem, then poorer people will benefit relatively more from the cut in consumption that could arise as a result of education campaigns because alcohol is a high proportion of their budget whereas they suffer disproportionately from tax and minimum price methods of control.

  3. Posted 07/02/2014 at 21:25 | Permalink

    White Cider, and a few other cheap and nasty beverages , largely consumed by alcoholics and teenagers, are what will be affected by minimum unit pricing. The stuff respectable people drink will not be affected at all.

  4. Posted 08/02/2014 at 16:01 | Permalink

    A minimum price of 45p or 50p per unit would increase the price of the majority of alcohol sold in the off-trade – it certainly isn’t just something that would affect a small number of marginal products.

    And isn’t it rather snobbish to talk of “cheap and nasty beverages, largely consumed by alcoholics and teenagers”?

  5. Posted 08/02/2014 at 18:07 | Permalink

    What do you drink that costs less than 45p a unit?

  6. Posted 08/02/2014 at 19:38 | Permalink

    ASDA are selling Badger Tanglefoot £5 for 4 bottles – 6.4 units. 78 pence a unit. or Newcastle Brown Ale, same price, slightly weaker.

    Or for those who just want to get drunk cheaply

    Strongbow Cider 440 ml 2.2 units 70p a bottle 31 pence a unit

  7. Posted 09/02/2014 at 21:09 | Permalink

    @Martin Rathfelder – The point is that whatever the minimum price would be set at initially, if there was perceived to be no or little impact, then, once the principle and mechanism had been established, there would be pressure to increase it until there is. A tax is one thing, but direct government interference in pricing and pricing competition is quite another.

  8. Posted 10/02/2014 at 09:12 | Permalink

    So, HJ, do you have an alternative proposal to reduce the damaging effects of alcohol? There is good evidence that raising the price or reducing access helps.

  9. Posted 10/02/2014 at 10:24 | Permalink

    Given the elasticities, these price increases will generate windfall profits for retailers. They will inevitably be taxed – more bureaucracy.

  10. Posted 10/02/2014 at 10:46 | Permalink

    Actually one of the effects might be to reduce the alcohol concentration, which has been rising over recent years. That would be very beneficial.

  11. Posted 10/02/2014 at 10:49 | Permalink

    @Martin Rathfelder – I do not advocate this, but if raising the price is perceived to be ‘necessary’ by the proponents of higher pricing to control demand, I fail to see why they think that minimum pricing is a better solution than higher taxation. Minimum pricing will increase margins for producers and/or retailers and so they will be encouraged to do everything possible to sell more alcohol in preference to other goods because selling alcohol will have become more profitable per unit sold – price is not the only factor in determining how much they sell.

  12. Posted 10/02/2014 at 10:52 | Permalink

    Martin – have you not read the comments? There are two possibilities – further tax or education. However, you could argue (indeed, I would argue) that in a pluralist society we have to put up with these costs – though I would not be against private health insurers rating on the basis of alcohol consumption (something that is impossible in a socialised system of course). All sorts of activities are not good for the people involved and often for wider society (under-exercising, over-eating, promiscuous sex, not spending enough time reading good books..the list is almost endless) and I am afraid that we generally have to put up with it or try to change the culture by persuading people to lead a better way of life (as the temperance movement and many religions did in the late 19th century). The main argument above is that MUP is the worst policy buy in this field. If we attempt to solve every problem that involves behaviour we do not like by coercive regulation we will encounter at least two problems – firstly society will rapidly become very much less free; secondly, we will not be able to agree on the problems that should be addressed by coercive measures and that will lead to huge conflict.

  13. Posted 10/02/2014 at 11:01 | Permalink

    Martin – “Actually one of the effects might be to reduce the alcohol concentration, which has been rising over recent years.” If we are to have alcohol taxes, there is a strong case for basing the taxes on the amount of alcohol in the drink. There are some substantial oddities in the system at the moment (I think over-taxation of beer relative to cider, but I am not an expert).

  14. Posted 10/02/2014 at 11:31 | Permalink

    Actually 4 bottles of Tanglefoot for £5 (500 ml @ 5% ABV) is exactly 50p per unit.

    My local corner shop is selling 4×500 ml cans of imported Becks for £4.50 which is 45p per unit.

    And that’s before you start looking at cheap whisky and vodka and slabs of Carling and Fosters.

    Also, contrary to what Martin says, in recent years a large number of beers and ciders such as Stella, Strongbow and John Smith’s Extra Smooth have had their alcoholic strength reduced.

  15. Posted 10/02/2014 at 11:44 | Permalink

    I agree with Philip’s last comment. There are some peculiarities around excise duty and banding. And various measures to protect Scotch and so on. a taxation system which related directly to the amount of alcohol would be better.

    Abuse of alcohol is more of a problem than most of the other social evils you mention because people other than the perpetrator are often damaged by people who are drunk. Much more than people who consume other drugs. It seems reasonable to take measures against these external costs. And of course we need to ensure that the manufacturers bear the costs.

  16. Posted 10/02/2014 at 12:39 | Permalink

    “And of course we need to ensure that the manufacturers bear the costs.”

    Um no. We need to ensure that the person inflicting the cost bears the cost.

  17. Posted 10/02/2014 at 14:35 | Permalink

    In a reasonably competitive market, only consumers will bear the cost of taxes and, unless you deliberately create monopolies, manufacturers cannot bear the cost. Under MUP, manufacturers might actually benefit.

  18. Posted 11/02/2014 at 15:11 | Permalink

    I work in the public sector and you would not believe how much tobacco/alcohol control industry bumph passes my deak – much of it before it is published and still at the planning stage.

    I’d lose my job if I made it public – although I will one day.

    What gets me is that it used to be illegal for public money to be used for political purposes – yet a lot of the stuff they send me openly refers to lobbying MPs and trying to persuade members of the public to write to their MPs to demand political action.

    The Publicity Code attached to the Local Govt Act used to specify that the ban on spending public money on politics applied to local govt AND other public-sector bodies.

    The Code was revised in 2010 (possibly 2011) and the foreword was changed to exclude a ban on the other public sector bodies.

    The ban remains on local govt politicking, although many councils break the Code.

    It gives carte blanche for the NHS, police, fire etc to spend on politicking. They fund Community Interest Companies so it is at arms length.

    Suerly it is still ellegal though? There is a convention within the constitution that public money should not be used for politics. Is a breach actionable?

    Does anyone know?

    Incidentally, I FOI’d one of these fake charities and – presumably by using Goggle – they tracked me down and contacted my boss to ask if I ‘had a problem’ with alcohol’. Truly astounding.

    Chris, keep up the good work.

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