Big news in the drinks trade yesterday, although this is less relevant to readers of this blog: Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of booze has been ruled legal, and Scotland are going to roll it out.
It’s a big deal, because now this is legal (it was claimed by opponents that it broke EU competition law), it could be rolled out into other countries. I think it’s a positive thing, overall, although the drinks trade have been campaigning against it.
How does it work? Basically, it sets a minimum price per unit of alcohol (in this case 50 p), and will impact on the cheapest forms of alcohol, such as high-strength lagers, inexpensive vodka and whisky, and cheap ciders. The cheapest bottle of wine at 12.5% alcohol would become £4.70, so very few wines will be affected. For a 4% can of lager, the minimum price would be £1.
This isn’t the answer to alcohol abuse. But it’s much more sensible than some of the other options, such as changing the safe-drinking guidelines, raising taxes, or banning advertising of alcohol. The government will need to do something about alcohol abuse, and this is the best option because it leaves interesting booze untouched.
The drinks trade needs to show it’s taking problem drinking seriously, and MUP addresses the sorts of products that tend to be abused more often. As a parent of teenagers I saw the chaotic drinking patterns of my kids’ peers, and they were drinking the likes of K Cider, strong lager and cheap spirits, all of which made it too affordable and easy for them to get very drunk.
Increasing the price of booze does reduce overall consumption, and the other way of doing this is raising duty. MUP, which targets just cheaper products, is much better for the industry because it’s not a tax. To oppose it would show that the drinks industry is interested in profit over public health, and the
consequences of this stand in terms of government public health legislation could hit drinks companies a whole lot harder than MUP.
Anyone making serious, crafted products, or with decent brands, has nothing to worry about because it won’t impact them. And it won’t touch the on-trade.
Ultimately, alcohol abuse is a symptom of something deeper in society. It has always been with us, and always will, but the problem certainly isn’t being helped by the affordability of alcohol, which has become cheaper in real terms over recent decades. MUP is much better than the prohibitionist rhetoric that wants to tell people that any level of alcohol consumption is harmful, which is not borne out by the many meta-analyses that show a protective effect of moderate drinking.
It would be interesting to see what effect introducing a MUP of say 60 p per unit would do. It’s not taxation, so if there is a higher spend, retailers and producers could benefit. Will higher prices reduce consumption? This will be interesting to follow.
My advice to the drinks trade would be to support MUP. Think of all the alternatives, and you’ll see that this is by far the most sensible and least painful of the various public health initiatives to curb excessive boozing.