Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Our Relationship With Alcohol Is A Cultural Problem

Nicola Sturgeon and staff of Glasgow
Royal Infirmary yesterday

Scotland and the rest of the UK has an alcohol problem. It's a cultural problem resulting in avoidable health issues and one which has been ignored for decades.

Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish government intended to introduce a minimum price of 50p per unit on cheap alcohol from April of next year.  A brave move some say while others protest it is a tax on the poor.  It's certainly a boost to the profits of the producers and retailers of alcohol and a move which will hit moderate drinkers the hardest, although as one myself I have no objection to my taxes going towards making our society a better place in which to live.  But will it?

Alcohol is perhaps the most damaging legal and socially acceptable consumer item freely available for all.  It not only damages the heavy drinker but family and friends of alcoholics can be seriously affected.

My problem with the minimum pricing proposal is that it's based on a couple of studies from Canada (BC in particular) and a 'model' study from an English university.  We're all well aware how the 'model' studies of climate change eventually revealed a chain of unjustifiable claims and brought the science into disrepute. It also concerns me that once this minimum pricing proposal is socially accepted it will lead to further price increases; such as 'fatty' foods and carbonated soft drinks.

The results of the Canadian studies are interesting but have been queried by several charities which deal with those suffering alcohol problems.  One individual I know, who has worked with the Canadian AA for many years, agrees the consumption of alcohol has slightly reduced, but little attention has been paid to the increase in illegal drug abuse, which has increased far more than the decrease seen since the introduction of minimum pricing.

Some may argue certain drugs are less harmful than alcohol and that may be true, but my informant relays the reduction in alcohol consumption is mainly due to the better off reducing the quantities they purchase.  If an individual wants to get alcohol they will and a price hike makes no difference.

My Canadian friend also says the most effective way to stop excessive alcohol consumption is proper education of the young and correct use of the law plus, with the help of medical practitioners, a system of indentifying abuse before it causes long-term harm. 

Drunks are not tolerated on the streets of BC as they are here in the UK. Police gather them up and put them in cells until they're sober and, with few exceptions, they are charged the following day. Shame and humiliation causes many to reduce their intake and repeat offenders are quickly identified.  Usually they are offered treatment for their addiction, although I understand some of the treatments result in addiction to prescription drugs.

It's a catch 22 situation in many ways. Any attempt to reduce the attraction and consumption of cheap alcohol will have problems, but I don't think the introduction of minimum pricing is brave. I consider it an easy - and relatively untested - solution to a serious cultural problem, but although it's easy it's a step in the right direction.

A brave move would be to change our relationship with alcohol and recognise why so many people abuse it.  It's not just the young sprawled on the pavements on Friday and Saturday nights who may have problems. Behind closed doors is where a great deal of alcohol is consumed and where dependancy develops. 

That's why it's a cultural problem because something is wrong at the heart of a society where so many, too often, reach for alcohol in order to mask their worries. It's sad to know that we're prepared to increase the cost yet not address the core reasons for the problem with any seriousness.


Macheath said...

If an individual wants to get alcohol they will and a price hike makes no difference.

In BC, there is also the literal hike to be taken into account; setting out to buy some beer in a suburban shopping street in Vancouver, we were surprised to be directed to the nearest liquor store - a fifteen-minute drive away. Meanwhile, the (excellent) local Chinese restaurant, like several others in the district, had no licence.

BC's pricing policy goes hand-in-hand with what are, by British standards, draconian restrictions on access to alcohol.

English Pensioner said...

Is this a tax or is it an order to retailers not to sell below a particular price? The impression given in the media is that it is the latter, so this either means that they will make higher profits or be able to reduce prices elsewhere (ha ha!)
What about giving beer away free of charge, "buy three, get one free". Or, if they're not allowed to give it away, what about "a free packet of crisps with each can" or 100 extra points with each four pack. I'm sure that they'll find away around it, I'd place odds on Tesco's lawyers over the MPs and government lawyers any day!
And if, in the event, it is against EU competition Law, as has been suggested, we're in for an interesting time.

pa_broon74 said...

Idon't think it'll work, but I think its worth a try, there is a sunset clause in place.

I would expect the SG to resurrect its revision on business rates for out-of-town supermarkets in order to claw back some of the gains made by retailers.

Other than that, alcohol is far to widely available, there should be a moratorium on new licences granted and renewals.

There are all sorts of reasons why people drink, I think these days with the so-called binge drinking culture, its down to hedonism fuelled by cynicism for the government, state and culture we now find ourselves living in.

Mainly though, with young people, and this is where it all starts; its because the entire subject is swept under the carpet.

I was speaking to a high-heid-yin of the youth organisation for which I volunteer, we skimmed across the topic of drink at events (for over 14's,) he said with emphasis 'we have a zero tolerance policy on drink'. How can you possible tackle a challenging social issue if we're not even allowed to explore it, its just daft.

I was so angry, I had to have a drink to calm myself...


pa_broon74 said...

(On the topic of licencing, when I say a moratorium on renewals, I mean if a shop changes hands, not just at the end of the licence period, it wouldn't be fair.)

JRB said...

You say that – Alcohol is perhaps the most damaging legal and socially acceptable consumer item freely available for all.

But what of the motor car, for which the annual cost due to accidents causing death or injury is in the order of some £13billion, with damage-only accidents costing a further £5billion. And we have not considered the cost or effect of the lifelong trauma such accidents can have on individuals and their families.

Will our government soon be legislating against excessive or inappropriate use of the car?

And what about the trans-fats, sugars and general diet that is leading our fellow countrymen into obesity, heart disease and Type II diabetes. Costing the NHS in Scotland in excess of £10billion annually, and rising.

Will our government soon be legislating against what we eat?

Where does such legislation intent on social engineering end?

You cannot change a ‘culture’ by legislation.

Woodsy42 said...

I have my doubts about much of this 'alcohol problem' SR. I tend to think we have a behavioural problem. Some people think it's OK to get smashed, befoul the streets and behave unpleasantly. Alcohol is a useful tool to promote that behaviour.
Some years ago football was the excuse, similar people, similar objectives, different situation.
I suspect that closing the alcohol route (and pricing won't do that anyhow)is unlikely to do more than move the problem.

JRB said...

Just had a thought …

I purchase most of my booze from a supplier south of the border.

In future will I now have the excise man knocking on the door - or - will there be a special customs post at Carlisle intercepting my order and checking just how much I’ve actually paid?

RMcGeddon said...

It's just another tax on the poor. It won't effect the hardened middle class drinkers like Eric Joyce etc. A recent Pravda tv programme said most of the heavy drinking in the UK was done behind the closed doors of middle class houses.

If price was the issue then there would be violence and drunkenness in mainland Europe where alcohol is at least half the price of the UK. I've been there many times and there isn't.

There are plenty of laws to nip the problem of drunken violence and vagrancy in the bud but our leaders are too weak and PC to allow the police to do their job.

A tax on us all is seen as an easy option by our betters who won't be affected by the extra costs.
And of course like all taxes they will go up and up. Just like the 'luxury' tax of VAT. Yes when I fitted new tyres to my car the other week I really felt luxurious.

With cross border trade being an EU Competence then maybe this will be thrown out. In the meantime I'll buy online.

Buckfast is one of the main targets yet it's safely within the 50p minimum pricing ( for now)so won't be affected.

Cider will double in price but the tax won't double so retailers and brewers will enjoy a windfall.

As the prices increase there will be a gradual shift to the black market and bootlegging as with cigarettes. Fake booze will cause a lot more damage and crime will increase as drunks attack people for money or raid bootlegger houses for drink and money. A recent knife attack on a guy in Dundee who sold cigarettes resulted in him sadly dying in his house.

Oh and all the supposed health benefits will be total fiction.
We all have to die of some disease or other ( shock horror) so people will die earlier through drink and save the state the pension payouts. And ?

English Pensioner said...

pa_broon74 said... "there is a sunset clause in place."
Reading the English newspapers it is a false sunset clause.
With a true sunset clause the legislation falls unless it is renewed, the papers merely said that the law will be "reconsidered", a vast difference.

Keith Ruffles said...

I wonder if supermarkets in Berwick-upon-Tweed and other English border towns are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of Scottish 'booze-cruisers' hopping over the border to stockpile cheap alcohol...?

subrosa said...

Sorry Macheath, I should have mentioned the Canadian retail system in the post. These liquor stores, I'm told, are very regularly policed too.

Draconian measures right enough with people finding their kicks in street drugs. Never any mention of that these days.

subrosa said...

It's not a tax EP. The profits will stay with the retailers spinning off to the producers etc.

It will be interesting to see who initiates the EU law courts.

subrosa said...

Pa-broon, do you honestly think the sunset clause will be of any use? All I can see it doing is upping the minimum price because the 50p wasn't producing results.

I agree it's far too widely available. Some have licences for 24 hour drinking and that's a nonsense.

Far point and far better they learn within a safe environment. Of course such organisations don't want the hassle of policing and that's understandable.

I still believe that 18 is a reasonable age for young folk to be entitled to be served alcohol. There has to be a limit.

subrosa said...

The problem there is pa_broon, that many small shops make sizeable profits from the sale of alcohol. If they sell up and the licence is a cause for concern, then the value of the business will be greatly reduced.

subrosa said...

The motor car doesn't change brain function JRB - at least not that I've noticed.

I agree, you can't change a culture by legislation but it can help a little. We've had social engineering for centuries haven't we?

The SNP want to be seen as doing something about this and this is their method. They'll make the stats look good in a year or two's time and everyone will applaud. However, no mention will be made of the numbers who turn to drugs or awful illegal alcohol because both are cheaper.

subrosa said...

Great point Woodsy and I should have emphasised it more. Nowadays it seems socially acceptable for folk to be seen lying in gutters. We've become used to it and seeing images of paramedics etc all rushing to help.

We need politicians to say getting smashed and misbehaving in public is not acceptable. That would be a good start.

subrosa said...

I don't think you'll have a problem until independence JRB. :)

subrosa said...

It is another indirect tax RM and it's the poor who will suffer the most right enough by turning to suspicious cheap street alcohol and even drugs.

subrosa said...

Oops forgot to say I just read that Buckfast will not be affected, yet that's one of the drinks, as you say, which has been targeted as a cheap one.

Aye indeed, the results will be horrific but buried under 'successful' statistics.

All I can see this legislation doing is pushing the price of alcohol up and up until we all brew our own. I used to make a rather fine vermouth myself and I think the demijohns are still in the shed.

subrosa said...

Excellent point EP.

subrosa said...

Hello Keith, good to hear from you. There will be vans buying cheap cider etc I'm sure, but as RM says above the bootlegging will result in more problems.

Brian said...

Perhaps MSPs could set a good example by closing the (is it still MSP only?)bar in the Scottish Parliament. I gather it lost £8,000 in 2009. Is there a justification for the provision of intoxicants in the workplace?

Social pressure is always more effective than taxation or legislation at altering behaviour. Acceptance of public drunkenness should be made taboo in the same way as racism has in the last thirty years. I'm not saying that what worked with racism will work with bingeing, but ...

pa_broon74 said...

I would also say...

The notion that people will be doing cross-border raids for cheap booze in England won't work due to the price of petrol and diesel being more expensive to buy than the booze itself.


My Dad had a corner shop for a while (only it wasn't on a corner...) It had a booze licence and yes, what meagre business he did was bolstered by off-sales.

The problem is, in terms of under agers, they don't get booze from places like Tesco or The Coop because they are super strict about age, its the corner shops who supply them under the counter or by ignoring the plain fact an older person is in buying 3 bottles of MD20/20 and 10 Silk Cut for 'themselves'.

Mean while the newly over-eighteens no longer have to pay the higher rates charged at the corner shop and can simply nip into Tescos or the Coop (etc) and buy gallons of cheap drink.

While all that's happening, folk my age (although not necessarily me) are sitting in the house, utterly alienated from their local pub because they can't smoke in it/can't hear themselves think or speak/don't want to listen to football at 100000db's and a duke box at the same time or don't want stabbed on the way home, we're sitting drinking wine out of a box (which is a dangerous endeavour since you can't tell how much you've had until you end up in blithering heap by the fridge, not that I'd know about that you understand...) Anyway, we're slowly but steadily turning our liver into a lump of coal.

Does anyone know if it will apply to drinks sold in pubs and clubs? Not that it would make a difference, as someone has already said, making something a bit more expensive doesn't mean people will stop doing it, especially if its an addictive something.

One thing I would do is crack down on anti-social behaviour, bring back drunk tanks and start morning after fines. With all the CCTV cameras in operation, the evidence, should it be needed, wouldn't be hard to find.

No CCTV camera's near my fridge mind...

RMcGeddon said...

pa..it will effect all alcohol sales. But like you say pub prices are safely above the 50p per unit price anyway.
I can see why they went for 50p rather than 40p a unit. A scan of the shelves at my shop shows that cider is now about £4.45 for 10.5 units so wouldn't be affected by the 40p per unit. Only a 55p rise per bottle. All that loss in support for the SNP for such a paltry outcome. Plus the expensive court cases coming up as it's illegal under EU law.
But once you start taxing things the only way is up.
Quality brands won't want to be priced the same as the bottom of the market so will increase their prices to maintain the differential and prestige.

Ivan D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ivan D said...

“We found that a 50p minimum price would lead to an overall reduction in consumption of 5.5%. So harmful drinkers' consumption would fall by more than 10%, whereas moderate drinkers would see their consumption fall by just 2.5%.”

Anybody who actually believes that this theoretical drivel from the Sheffield group will translate into reality is unfit to govern anything. A rudimentary analysis of the WHO comparative data for Europe shows that there are no simple links between price and consumption or harm.

Minimum pricing is yet another example of gesture politics championed by people who want to look big by offering “big policies for big problems”. They are as you point out not big policies, the public have been misled over their potential efficacy and the problem has been both exaggerated and deliberately badly analysed.

What really notched up my blood pressure was Sturgeon spouting misleading “facts” about alcohol affordability, consumption and hospital admissions. What she said is simply dishonest by any objective measure.

Education, example and enforcement of existing laws are better solutions. Unfortunately, long term progressive measures like those are too slow for grandstanding politicians so instead we get a regressive tax on the poor , increased probability of a black market in dangerous illicit alcohol and the prospect of designer drugs becoming the substances of choice for rebellious teenagers.

Still, I suppose that doesn’t matter provided that the politicians look “big” and are seen to be doing something. They will of course fix the stats to make this ivory tower idiocy look like a success in the same way that they rigged the hospital admissions statistics to give weight to their arguments. The sheer relentless dishonesty of public health politics is enough to drive a person to drink.

pa_broon74 said...


I'm beginning to think its a bit of a shit idea to be honest.

I mean, I suppose its worth a try, I suppose... I don't think the SNP will lose support, folk will forget soon enough.

I think there's really only one demographic it might have a positive effect on, that being the passive (as in unlikely to commit criminal offences) single person on a low income with no dependants and with substantial alcohol problems. The just won't be able to buy as much.

That's a pretty thin slice of society.

This is one of the things I dislike about SNP policy, they're far to quick legislate, usually on the back of hysterical news paper headlines, that kind of thing will see them loose support.

As long as it doesn't detract from support for independence, which is a different argument.

Sackerson said...

I think MacHeath's first comment above hits on a key point: accessibility. Over the decades it's become so very easy to buy alcohol that it's quite likely a factor in increased consumption. Garages, post offices, newsagents, shops, supermarkets... if the brewers could arrange a booze tap in every domestic kitchen they'd be in investor hog heaven.

Barbarian of the North said...

I don't think it will work, but it should at least be tried.

I would rather have see excise duty go up, rather than the price per unit.

The SG has got to be careful it doesn't turn into a nanny state of sorts. Smoking ban has been accepted, so why the unnecessary hiding of the displays? Most people start smoking as an experiment or peer pressure - I certainly did, although reformed now.

The fact Buckfast is exempt will raise some eyebrows. True, people would choose another drink, but Buckie is the drink of choice for the neds, and others it should be pointed out.

I think they should leave the social engineering as it is. Hope to hell they do not start on food. That would be a step too far.

One point - do they have an education programme aimed at children and adults to back up the minimum pricing? Because if they don't, they are wasting an opportunity.

JRB said...

That didn’t take long …

In my previous post I postulated that this ‘nanny’ interference by our government would no doubt see the introduction of an ‘unhealthy food tax’.

Guess what …
In today’s (16/05/12) Scotsman we have just such a tax now being proposed.


Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

The 'culture' is to splash out on a few hours of euphoria as a placebo to another week of mind numbing existence.

The creation of rebels without cause, purpose, responsibility, and; perhaps most potent of all, hope.

I doubt if the 50p will make much difference to the dead horse syndrome of hopelessness.

Governments -even the present Holyrood one - seem to take their eye off the ball on that one, preferring instead to ignore the horse for the free wheeling political cart and its load of statistics.

subrosa said...

I've suggested that several times Brian, both for Holyrood and Westminster.

It's not only the availability of alcohol in the workplace but the act it's subsidised by the taxpayer.

subrosa said...

There's a pub in a local town here that's exactly as you describe pa_broon. A wee while ago I agreed to meet a friend there one afternoon, just for a blether, and we couldn't hear ourselves think far less speak.

Usually I prefer to meet friends in hotel lounges - usually places of reasonable calm.

Good for you about drunk tanks etc because behaviour will only change if the majority stop ignoring it and start decrying it.

If I were you I'd hide all the cameras, videos etc in your hoose because you never know what could happen if you upset someone. Next thing ye'd be on Youtube lying beside yer fridge clutching yer empty wine box. :)

subrosa said...

Well said Ivan. Statistics will always be manipulated to benefit the user.

I had a 'discussion' of sorts on Twitter with someone who insisted there was a multitude of evidence to say that minimum pricing works yet he produced no evidence.

When I mentioned about the increase in drug taking in Canada he poo-pooed the very idea.

We seem to have given up on the drug issue or should I say illegal drug issue and it's so much easier for politicians to attack legal drug use such as tobacco and alcohol.

subrosa said...

Don't become despondent pa_broon but it's good to know that you're realising just how ineffective this will be. It's time consuming making legislation and expensive and unnecessary until all other aspects of alcohol abuse work in line.

One to remember when we discuss independence because it will affect the way people think. This hits the poor and middle income groups. Will it affect their voting?

subrosa said...

Well said Sackerson. I remember the days when it was only an off-licence which could sell alcohol. Some were attached to pubs and only suitable for cerry-oots but others were independent retailers. The staff knew their products in those places and would help if you wanted something specific. In supermarkets there's no such help/advice.

subrosa said...

It's a costly piece of legislation Barbarian and like you, I would prefer the duty to increase rather than this. The profits going back to the retailers etc will anger quite a few no doubt.

My fear is that it will spread to other aspects such as food etc.

subrosa said...

Jings JRB, you know how to cheer me up in the morning don't you.

No surprise though I don't suppose. Will people just continue to accept this continual nannying? It will be interesting to to hear what people do think.

subrosa said...

Great points eloquently stated Crinkly.

"..preferring instead to ignore the horse for the free wheeling political cart and its load of statistics'. - Super!

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