Friday, January 13, 2012

The price of alcohol.

I've thought, for quite a while now, that a minimum price for alcohol would be, on the whole, a good thing. I'm not a fan of drinking to get drunk. Yeah, getting drunk, it's a pleasant side effect, but if that is the goal, then you're doing it wrong. My theory is that you should be drinking because you like the taste. I know taste is subjective, but some of the cheap alcohol, primarily beers and spirits - ick. I used to, but I can't really see why people choose to drink Lion Red, Steinlager or Vladisvostok cheap arsed vodka. My theory was that a minimum price would raise the quality of the product, if there was no way to charge less, then there would be less incentive to try and make it as cheaply as possible. If you had to pay the same amount for Lion Red as for Stoke or Macs (neither as good as Tuatara, but still good), seriously, who would buy it? This of course, is reliant on the difference in price not being returned to the manufacturer, something that could be problematic.
The usual reason given for pushing for a minimum price, is that it would reduce alcohol consumption across the whole of society and thus reduce problematic drinking. Dr No, shows us why it's always a good idea to think things through.
The main problem I have with my theory, was that a minimum price would hit the poorest in society hardest. Turns out if you think about a minimum price, there are other, more serious problems with it. Most of the studies used to show that a drop in societal drinking levels will reduce problematic drinking rely on numerous assumptions - few of which have actually been verified. The biggest one assumes that heavy drinkers are just as likely to reduce their drinking as someone who's not a particular heavy drinker. If you think about it though, a heavy drinker is going to be more attached to their booze and thus are more likely to attempt to compensate for increased prices. Which means, amongst the poor, increased pressure on food, bills and rent budgets, i.e. it would just make things worse.
Combine that with the fact that the extra money probably would go back to the manufacturers or liquor stores rather than going towards improving the quality and I think the minimum price argument gets shot down in flames. Or at least until we get some proper studies done that aren't based on a bunch of unsubstantiated assumptions.

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