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This House would introduce minimum pricing on alcohol sales.
This House would introduce minimum pricing on alcohol sales.
Health professionals agree that high levels of alcohol consumption are bad for individuals and society. Individuals who drink heavily may become alcoholics, dependent upon alcohol and unable to function effectively in society. They are likely to suffer liver damage and other illnesses, and binge drinkers (those who drink a lot of alcohol at one time) put themselves at increased risk of potentially-fatal blood poisoning and accidents. Society also pays a heavy price through increased health-care costs to care for those damaged by alcohol, and through the higher rates of anti-social behavior (including domestic violence and drunk-driving) associated with heavy drinking. Such concerns have been around for generations, but in recent years problems associated with alcohol have been increasing in a number of societies. The UK in particular is seen to have an alcohol problem, with binge drinking common among younger people (including those below the legal age of purchasing alcohol at 18)1.
In order to address the health and public order problems associated with heavy drinking, there have been calls over the past few years for governments to set a minimum price for each unit of alcohol (a unit is roughly half a pint of beer, a small glass of wine, or a single measure of spirits, but this can vary greatly depending on the alcoholic strength of the specific drink)2. This would force supermarkets and discount stores to increase the price of their cheapest drinks, preventing them from selling some at a loss in order to attract more trade3.
Some Canadian provinces already have such a pricing policy, known there as social reference pricing, and a proposal to introduce this in Scotland was seriously debated in the Scottish Parliament in 2010 but ultimately failed to pass. In 2011 the new Coalition Government in the UK announced that it will set a minimum price per unit of alcohol in England and Wales by banning the sale of alcohol below the cost of the excise rate and value added tax upon each bottle (currently about 21 pence per unit for beer and 28 pence per unit for spirits)4/5/6.
This proposal has attracted both support and criticisms; some object to the whole idea, while health campaigners have pointed out that it would set the minimum price at such a low level that it will make almost no difference in practice to the cost of alcohol. For an effective debate, it will probably be best for the Proposition to propose setting a minimum price at a level that will genuinely affect the cost of much of the alcohol sold.
1.Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, ‘Binge Drinking and Public Health,’ Houses of Parliament. Number 244, 2005. http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn244.pdf Accessed 07/09/11
NHS, http://www.nhs.uk/news/2009/01January/Pages/BingedrinkingBritain.aspx Accessed 07/09/11
2.Drinkaware, ‘Unit Calculator,’ http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/tips-and-tools/drink-diary/ Accessed 07/09/11
3. Bennets, Russell, ‘IAS Briefing Paper: Use of Alcohol as a loss-leader,’ Institute of Alcohol Studies, 3rd June 2008. http://www.ias.org.uk/resources/papers/occasional/lossleading.pdf Accessed 07/09/11
4. BBC, ‘Minimum alcohol price levels planned by coalition,’ 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12212240 Accessed 07/09/11
Macleans, ‘Why is the government standing in the way of cheaper beer?’ 2011 http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/01/19/from-the-editors-2/ Accessed 07/09/11
Black, Andrew. ‘At a glance: SNP programme for government,’ BBC News, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-14804186 Accessed 07/09/11
5.Slack J., “Price limit on alcohol 'will have no effect': Minimum cost is not high enough to deter drinkers, warn doctors,” The Daily Mail, published 16/01/2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1348116/Alcohol-minimum-cost-high-deter-drinkers-warn-doctors.html#ixzz1VVv5fsOk, accessed 19/08/2011
|Points For||Points Against|
|This policy would be effective at decreasing alcohol consumption in general||Minimum prices hurt the poor.|
|Minimum prices will ensure that drinkers fulfill their responsibility to wider society.||A minimum price will be ineffective.|
|A minimum price supports licensed bars.||Minimum prices are an unjust intervention in the free market.|
|Government has no right to dictate people's lifestyles.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
This policy would be effective at decreasing alcohol consumption in general
A variety of international studies have found that increasing the cost of alcohol reduces its consumption, along with the health and social harms associated with it.
In Australia, after the introduction of a higher taxation towards alcohol, in 2008/2009, the overall consumption of alcohol dropped by 1.5 per cent and the number of teen-alcohol drinkers dropped in 3 years from the introduction of the policy for 27 per cent1.
Further on, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health concerning the relationship of price increases and drinking among college students shows, that "students faced with a $1 increase above the $2.17 average price for a drink will be 33 percent less likely to make the transition from being an abstainer to a moderate drinker, or from being a moderate drinker to a heavy drinker." This supports the theory that drinking can be prevented by a higher tax2.
The proposition would not claim that this is the only government policy that should be pursued to reduce the harms associated with alcohol, but it is a vital measure alongside other policies such as education initiatives, programs to help alcoholics overcomes their addiction, proof-of-age schemes, etc.
And unlike these, it has the advantage of being in itself a very cheap intervention; there is not even the cost associated with collecting a tax.
1 Jean D., ''Alcopop tax 'cut teen drinking'', Adelaide Now, published 18/07/2011, , accessed 18/08/2011
2 National bureau of Economic Research, "Higher Alcohol Prices and Student Drinking," 2011 , accessed 18/08/2011
Those who wish to drink heavily for a cheap price will turn to alternatives. Many of them will probably decide to buy black market alcohol. Russia is the example of a failed "minimum price" policy. When the prices rose people started to brew their own alcohol1. The statistical evidence for raising prices lowering drinks consumption is a best mixed2.
As previously noted, often alcohol consumption is not a personal choice for individuals with alcohol problems or consumption is fuelled by either lower financial obligations (as students) or by sacrificing other goods.
1 Fisher D., "Trying to break Russia's vodka dependence", BBC, published 01/01/2010, , accessed 18/08/2011
2 "Effect of Changes in Alcohol Prices and Taxes," Accessed 08/09/2011
Minimum prices will ensure that drinkers fulfill their responsibility to wider society.
It is the government's responsibility to promote the health and wellbeing of its citizens. Taxpayers are forced to pay for the cost of alcohol related ill-health and anti-social behavior. This is a waste of money that be being spent on other government priorities. This is an effective policy to deal with this issue. Free markets suffer from externalities– costs (such as pollution) that are created by only a few actors, but which everyone has to pay. So our whole society pays for the harms resulting from the ridiculously cheap alcohol associated with below-cost marketing and aggressive promotions. Families suffer terribly when a husband, mother or son is an alcoholic or violent drinker. Residents suffer from the anti-social behavior and crime associated with binge-drinking. Business loses millions of productive days’ work each year; according to the Institute of Alcoholic Studies, each day around 200,000 British workers turn up to work hung over from the night before. High proportions of hung over workers report problems such as lack of concentration and the inability to work at normal pace. In 2001 there was an attributable 1.2 billion pounds attributed to the loss in economy (in the UK), based only on alcohol attributed absence from work 1. All of this impacts the society, by losing overall economic wealth (through loss of productivity) and having to pour money to alcoholics’ health treatments. If these individuals in society do not want to stop with their activities, they should at least give back financially. In the state of Washington, we see that the state's beer, soda and bottled water tax gave the state $122 million in revenue in 2009, helping to close a $2.8 billion deficit. California could raise around $1.4 billion a year with a marijuana tax 2.
If the people cannot stop with their actions, they should reimburse others by paying a higher price for goods to reduce their harm to state finances
1.Institute of Alcohol Studies, “Alcohol and the Workplace,” http://www.ias.org.uk/resources/factsheets/workplace.pdf, accessed 18/08/2011
2. Trinko K., “Political cowards love the sin tax,” http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-09-21-column21_ST_N.htm, accessed 18/08/2011
The government is supposedly protecting the vulnerable with this policy. Yet they should consider the individuals who are considered vulnerable: alcoholics and young people.
These groups often drink too much alcohol because they either have an urge from a serious addiction or because of strong peer pressure. It is likely that they will simply spend more money on alcohol and less on other important goods.
The Mayo Clinic (USA) explains that alcoholism as a chronic disease is detrimental to behavior and financial rationale. When you are alcoholic, you lose control over your drinking. You may not be able to control when you drink, how much you drink, or how long you drink on each occasion. If you are alcoholic, you continue to drink even though you know it's causing problems with your relationships, health, work or finances1.
Further on, as the International Center for Alcohol policies explains, young people will not be affected by the change due to the capacity for relatively high discretionary expenditure (because, for example, they don't yet have liabilities for houses and families)2.
The policy in itself fails, because it does not provide a solution for the targeted group of excessive drinkers and mainly just financially punishes the moderate drinkers. In fact, in the cases of those excessive drinkers who cannot control their consumption, it is likely to make the lives of the vulnerable worse.
1 Mayo Clinic, "Alcoholism," , accessed 20/08/2011
2 International Center for Alcohol Policies, "If Alcohol Prices Increase, Will It Reduce Binge Drinking?", , accessed 20/08/2011
A minimum price supports licensed bars.
This measure will be good for public houses and bars (licensed premises), which have been struggling in recent years in comparison to supermarkets and discount retailers (off-licenses) that can sell alcohol much more cheaply. This is because they do not have the same overheads and can take advantage of economies of scale. Pubs often sell alcohol at rates that would be higher than any minimum price. Clubs and pubs which offer happy hours and other irresponsible drinks deals would be the only ones affected by this proposal1.
Not only are pubs community centers that help to bring people together, they also have a good record in promoting sensible drinking and reducing hazardous activitiesImprove this
This argument is hypothetical but does not seem plausible. Pubs provide a specific atmosphere and service. Yet they are not competing well with alternative sources of alcohol. That suggests that their service is desired infrequently or in some cases not at all. Raising prices is not likely to save such establishments, since any minimum price could not make alcohol from off-licenses more expensive than a pub (at most it could make them equally as costly). Since individuals are not willing to pay for the specific services of a pub, it's not clear why individuals would not just continue to avoid them and pay more for off-license alcohol.
Furthermore, why should the government be assisting a failing business-sector? If it is not making profits, it is because it is not desired by the population. The government has no right to distort the market to encourage a different decision.Improve this
Minimum prices hurt the poor.
A minimum unit price for alcohol will only affect the most price-sensitive members of society, who will be forced by this measure to cut down their alcohol purchases or reduce other spending in order to compensate. As such it is a highly regressive measure and a very blunt instrument with which to tackle problem drinking. Many poorer people enjoy their alcohol responsibly and will be unfairly punished by this proposal. On the other hand, many problem drinkers are well-off and they will be unaffected by the benefits claimed for this policy.For example, higher taxation struck mainly the poor when higher taxes for gas were introduced in California. "For those buying the average amount of gas per year, California's tax adds $403. For a $100,000 household, that's less than 0.5% of annual income, but for a minimum wage worker in California making $8 an hour, that $403 is 2.5% of income."1
A tax rise will disproportionately impact the poor without dealing with the problem in general.
1 Trinko K., "Political cowards love the sin tax," , accessed 18/08/2011
It is not necessarily wrong that the poor are most affected by this policy, indeed they are often the ones most ravaged by such issues.
A reduction in alcohol consumption for any group would be beneficial. Reduced alcohol consumption is beneficial to the whole of society which currently suffers from the costs of lost business and the injury and premature death of productive members of society.
This is also a highly effective way of sending a direct message. Campaigns and public awareness drives often cannot reach the most deprived areas or are ignored. This is a much more direct approach.Improve this
A minimum price will be ineffective.
The reason why many people drink alcohol is that it is a social activity -- most people drink with friends. Because alcohol makes people feel less inhibited, they feel more at ease socializing after a drink. Or perhaps they like the taste of alcohol1. People drink for several different reasons and because of this the price increase is too blunt a tool to really deter people from consuming alcohol; they are likely to simply spend less money on other lifestyle products.
The British Beer and Pub Association argue that a real decrease in drinking is possible only through targeted information campaigns. They also note that in the UK alcohol consumption went down by 12% between 2004 and 2010 and 6.7% 2009-10 in the last year. Yet this decrease did not translate into a noticeable set of health benefits- since a small minority consume around half of all alcohol2.
Therefore, because it will be ineffective, we should not implement it.
1 Web MD, "Teens and Alcohol," , accessed 20/08/2011
2 Turney E., "BBPA: Minimum price would be ineffective," , accessed 20/08/2011
Studies are mixed in their responses to this issue. Even so, even if all the potential benefits do not materialise, there are enough tangible benefits to make it worthwhile. Research by the Western Economic Association International indicates that the drinking practices of male college students in America are generally insensitive to the price of beer. However, underage drinking and binge drinking by female students do respond significantly to price, although both are relatively inelastic1.
Thus even in cases where not all of the population can be reached, there is some tangible benefit to increasing drinks prices. There is no overwhelming harm from this policy and it does target important parts of the population.
1Chaloupka, F and Wechsler, H."Binge drinking in college: the impact of price, availability, and alcohol control policies." Contemporary Economic Policy. Vol. 14, No. 4. 1996.Improve this
Minimum prices are an unjust intervention in the free market.
This measure is an unjustifiable intervention in the marketplace and will disproportionately affect some businesses more than others. If supermarkets and discount retailers want to sell items below cost, in order to bring in more customers for their other products, that is their right in a free market system. It is part of the competition that keeps prices affordable and so helps consumers with limited budgets to survive. And while producers of expensive branded drinks and high-end retailers will be unaffected by this measure, those companies who cater for the value segment of the market will be punished, with shareholder value and jobs unfairly destroyed.Improve this
A minimum price does send a clear message that selling alcohol at a loss is morally and socially unjustifiable, and will rein in some of the most excessive discounting practices. In time it will be easy to build on this start by raising the minimum level progressively, and so achieve greater social benefits in the long-term. The market is not an independent entity that has moral rights, and individuals economic rights are not absolute. We recognize the government's role in ensuring collective action problems are solved for the common good, and that individual actions can be limited for the benefit of the whole of society, through the principle of taxation and other common limitations on the free market.Improve this
Government has no right to dictate people's lifestyles.
It is not the place of Government to dictate to people how they should live their lives. The dangers and risks of alcohol are well-known enough for people to make up their own minds about what they choose to drink, and if they cannot yet that is an argument to inform not prohibit. And the UK and Canada already have very high alcohol excise rates and value added tax compared to most other countries, so any social costs associated with alcohol are already more than covered by existing policy.
Indeed, countries such as Italy, France and Spain which have much less of a problem with alcohol all tax it at much lower levels. In these countries moderate drinking, generally with meals is widespread, but actual drunkenness frowned upon1. Instead of this ineffectual proposal we should introduce measures aimed at changing our drinking culture. We should also do more to help those dependent upon alcohol overcome their addiction, which forces them to drink excessively regardless of the price.
The key is to change the mentality of people and to make them understand, that drinking is not to be done excessively. This can happen with information campaigns. These campaigns take time, but are actually successful. For example through campaigns, the US reported a 25% decrease in the number of drunk drivers killed in traffic accidents between 1980 and 19902.
Therefore because government should only inform and not infringe on rights, campaigns are a better solution.
1 Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking,' Social Issues Research Centre, (2011) Accessed 08/09/11
2 AD Council, "Drunk Driving Prevention," , accessed 18/08/2011
The price the government pays for allowing alcohol consumption is far greater than just the financial bill for hospital treatments. It is the loss of individuals that is concerning. According to the WHO 'the harmful use of alcohol is a global problem which compromises both individual and social development. It results in 2.5 million deaths each year. Alcohol is the world's third largest risk factor for premature mortality, disability and loss of health.' So alcohol is the potential loss of citizens1.
The precedence is already set with the governments' different actions, such as making people use the seat belt, preventing the use of drugs, compulsory vaccination and many others. All of these measures are designed to deter harmful behavior to individuals that they may not be fully aware of, or who face situational pressures which prevent them from making an impartial cost/benefit analysis of their actions. Sometimes the state does know best.
1 WHO, ''Alcohol,'' , accessed 18/08/2011Improve this
AD Council, "Drunk Driving Prevention", , accessed 18.08/2011
BBC, 'Minimum alcohol price levels planned by coalition,' 2011, Accessed 07/09/11
Drinkaware, 'Unit Calculator,' Accessed 07/09/11
Fisher D., "Trying to break Russia's vodka dependence", BBC, published 01/01/2010, , accessed 18/08/2011
Health Committee 'Health Committee- First Report,' Houses of Parliament. 2009. Accessed 08/09/2011 , Section 10
Institute of Alcohol Studies, "Alcohol and the Workplace", , accessed 18/08/2011
Jean D.,''Alcopop tax 'cut teen drinking', Adelaide Now, published 18/07/2011, , accessed 18/08/2011
Mayo Clinic, "Alcoholism", , accessed 20/08/2011
National bureau of Economic Research, "Higher Alcohol Prices and Student Drinking," 2011 , accessed 18/08/2011
NHS, Accessed 07/09/11
Rico C., "Alcopops tax a failure: industry", Courier Mail, 2011 , accessed 08/18/2011
Trinko K., "Political cowards love the sin tax," USA Today, 2010, , accessed 18/08/2011
Turney E., "BBPA: Minimum price would be ineffective," , accessed 08/20/2011
Web MD, "Teens and Alcohol",2011, , accessed 20/08/2011
WHO, ''Alcohol'', accessed 18/08/2011
"Effect of Changes in Alcohol Prices and Taxes," Accessed 08/09/2011
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