Will Raising Prices of Alcohol Eliminate Binge Drinking in Britain?

Mr. Cameron announced yesterday that there will be no more cheap alcohol in Britain.

The idea behind this move is to try to eliminate binge drinking, but this measure has already been tried in other countries, (Sweden tried it over thirty years ago), and it did not work. Even in the Britain, Mr Cameron is trying to save, prices of alcohol have been extremely high for a number of years with the very intention of forcing people to cut down, but this has not happened – if anything alcohol related problems have risen.

While the desire to combat binge drinking and the subsequent crimes, violence and other problems is a worthy one, it is this method which is under heavy attack from just about all sides.

Cheap is a relative term and when a bottle of average branded spirits in Britain is Pounds 15 – Pounds 18 but the same brands can be bought elsewhere in Europe for about ‘8-’11, (about Pounds 6.70 – Pounds 9.50) there would seem to be little “cheap” alcohol already on the market. Unbranded spirits show a bigger price gap compared to certain European countries with Pounds 9+ being the cheapest in Britain and ‘3, ( Pounds 2.50), an average price in some European countries.

The idea that people drink too much being related to low prices, is disproved by all the countries that sell alcohol very cheaply. A reasonable bottle of wine in Italy can cost around ‘2 – ‘3 and a bottle of spirits ‘3 upwards, yet you never, and I do mean never, see drunks in the streets or in bars. After living there for over 15 years the only “drunks” I have seen are friends of mine when they come to visit me, (they drink the same amount back home in Britain too). It is not the “cheap” factor that influences them to drink a lot, so much as the “holiday atmosphere” and no work to go to the next day.

Italians may do their drinking behind their own closed doors, but even if this is so, the only problems this is causing are their own personal health related issues, and this would already be a step in the right direction. No pub fights, looting, drunk driving and other crimes associated with excess of alcohol. It is mainly this problem, drunks causing damage of one type or another, which the Prime Minister says he wishes to impede.

Bars in other parts of Europe also offer a wider range of choice of drinks, including iced tea, coffee, iced coffee, milk shakes, non-alcoholic fruit cocktails, ice cream, cakes and a host of tasty treats. British bars sell alcohol and any soft drinks connected to alcohol, so you can buy cola – it is used with whiskey, tonic water – mixed with gin, Red Bull – drunk with vodka and on it goes. People who are driving or who are tea-total, (and there are quite a few of these), are faced with little choice, and if you do not like fizzy drinks the choice is virtually nil in Britain.

In his speech Mr Cameron did acknowledge that this move would be unpopular, but he seems not to have anticipated possible legal repercussions from the Wine and Spirits Association and a warning from the European Commission.

How this unfolds still remains to be seen and time will reveal a great deal, but this policy may be one that does not make it into practice.