Will increasing the price of alcohol reduce problem drinking?
It is morally wrong for any shop to entice customers into their stores by selling, as a loss leader, extra strong lager at 20 pence per can. This kind of practice is one of the issues that needs to be addressed in order to reduce the level of problem drinking in this country.
Therefore, it’s common sense for the government to declare it intends to outlaw this unhelpful practice in its recent alcohol strategy consultation document.
What I don’t agree with are the proposals to increase the minimum price of alcohol to 45 pence per unit and to ban multi-buy promotions.
First of all, from a personal point of view, I object to paying more for wine and beer just because other people have difficulty in drinking sensibly.
Secondly, the price increase is likely to have little or no impact on alcoholics or problem drinkers, it will simply reduce drinking by existing sensible drinkers.
During my police service I had regular contact with alcoholics who could not afford to maintain their drinking habits, even at 20p per can. I have dealt with desperate people who have resorted to stealing and drinking Old Spice aftershave, when they could not buy or steal alcohol. There are people who scour bottle banks outside pubs and clubs during the night and pour all the dregs into a single container before drinking the cloudy brown coloured cocktail. Problem drinkers will get alcohol or an alcohol-based product no matter what the level the official price is set at.
If the price at licensed premises is unaffordable, it will open the floodgates for organised criminals and opportunists to fill the void.
There will be an increase in the illegal importation of alcohol into the country from Europe and, more worryingly, an increase in the production and sale of dangerous counterfeit products.
In fact, you only have to look at the recent case involving Ben Brown, from Lytham St Annes, who has been sentenced to three years in prison for making and selling vodka mixed with mephedrone for an example of the type of activity that will happen. I also anticipate more people will use home brew kits and some may even have a go at making their own ‘Still’.
Problem drinking will not reduce in this country until there is a culture change, not just a price change. That will only happen if people are charged the true cost of any policing, health service, council and legal costs that are incurred resulting from their own excessive drinking habits.
Increasing the price of alcohol is simply going to make the current situation worse.
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