Wine bottle

The problems with alcohol policy in the UK

Summary

  • Alcohol policy in Britain and many other countries aims to reduce per capita alcohol consumption in the belief that this will inevitably reduce heavy and harmful drinking. The cornerstone policies of this approach are advertising bans, licensing restrictions and higher taxes.

  • Campaigners cite the ‘Total Consumption Model’ as justification for implementing policies that affect all drinkers, rather than just the heavy drinking minority. The theory was devised in the 1950s based on a statistical correlation between average alcohol consumption and rates of harmful drinking.

  • As researchers have long recognised, this theory is deeply flawed and has little predictive power. Per capita alcohol consumption largely depends on the amount of heavy drinking in a population, not vice versa. The mathematical model is simply wrong. Numerous real world examples, including the UK in recent years, show that alcohol-related harm does not necessarily correlate with overall alcohol consumption.

  • Empirical evidence supports neither the Total Consumption Model nor the policies upon which it is based. These policies bear costs on moderate drinkers while being largely ignored by at-risk drinkers.

  • Alcohol policy would be more effective and equitable if it targeted excessive drinkers, alcoholics and those who require help, rather than the whole population.


The publication featured in The Telegraph.

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Chris Snowdon Final

Head of Lifestyle Economics, IEA

Christopher Snowdon is the Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA. He is the author of The Art of Suppression, The Spirit Level Delusion and Velvet Glove; Iron Fist. His work focuses on pleasure, prohibition and dodgy statistics. He has authored a number of publications including Sock Puppets, Euro Puppets, The Proof of the Pudding, The Crack Cocaine of Gambling and Free Market Solutions in Health.