Alcohol regulation: is minimum unit pricing the answer?
Looks like Scotland may soon get further alcohol regulation in the form of a minimum price per unit. According to this BBC news report, a minimum price of 40 p per unit would save many lives. This would make the lowest price for a bottle of wine £3.60.
The alcohol industry has campaigned against this sort of intervention, but the current government sentiment is one where they are almost bound to take some sort of step to lessen the social harm of cheap alcohol.
I was discussing this issue with Chris Losh on the way back from Noval. He's an experienced trade and consumer journalist who has written quite a bit on these issues. Chris reckons that the industry has basically ceded ground to neo-prohibitionists simply because it hasn't come up with any strategies of its own. It has simply opposed every form of regulation that has been proposed.
I agree with Chris that the best form of regulation would be for the drinks trade to campaign for a ban on alcohol price promotion. While this is undoubtedly more complex than it seems initially (Where does it leave bin-end sales? What can show owners do with slow moving stock?), I think it would be the least problematic of all strategies.
It would make it much harder for supermarkets to use drinks as a loss leader. It would create a level playing field [surely there has to be a less tired metaphor than this?] for wine sales. It would do away with these depressing soft brands that are priced artificially high only to be discounted deeply.
And it would force Laithwaites to change their business model, too.
The question is, in the long-run, would the consumer suffer? Do consumers really benefit from price promotions as they are now?