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June 06, 2007


Roger Thornhill

Frankly, I do not expect it to end here. I expect to see them attempt a form of direct control. A points system on the ID-carbon-roadprice card they are itching to impose upon us.

There is nothing wrong with BMA advice on drinking levels or on labelling. It is the attempt to control, to limit, to punish that is so insidious.

Iain Coleman

I'm not convinced that higher alcohol prices are going to make that much difference. It depends, of course, on the elasticity of demand for alcohol, and I suspect that, as with other drugs, the elasticity is low. It would be interesting to look at alcohol consumption figures from Scandinavian countries that have tried this approach. My experience is that Danes seem to drink even more than Brits, despite the much higher prices, but proper comparative data would be useful.

To be honest, I think the nub of it is indeed a Northern European drinking culture, and I doubt it can be changed by simple economic incentives. Not that New Labour's approach is likely to achieve much more: that kind of hectoring is the sort of thing that drives people to drink.


"It depends, of course, on the elasticity of demand for alcohol, and I suspect that, as with other drugs, the elasticity is low."

Hmmm - seem to remember reading somewhere that the demand for drugs wasn't nearly as inelastic as people tend to assume?


[My experience is that Danes seem to drink even more than Brits, despite the much higher prices]

Denmark doesn't have high alcohol taxes; it's the one Nordic country which doesn't.

Igor Belanov

The price of a pint of beer is very high in Denmark though (equivalent to £3.50-£5) so it must just be higher standards of living. Plus, on the continent it is much cheaper to buy alcohol in a shop. (About 30p a can for decent stuff last time I was in Germany)

Iain Coleman

Denmark doesn't have high alcohol taxes; it's the one Nordic country which doesn't.

Depends whay you mean by high: booze is still notably expensive there compared to the UK, though I haven't compared the tax regimes quantitatively. But yes, the really punitive booze tax is in Sweden. There's an entertaining chain of cross-border traffic: Danes buy drink in Germany, where it's substantially cheaper (indeed, the Danish spirits taxes were greatly reduced not long ago to try and discourage this), while Swedes get their drink in Denmark. I've seen no evidence that the drinking culture in either Sweden or Denmark has diminished in potency as a result of prices.

Mark Wadsworth

And Eskimos buy spirits in Sweden, I guess...

Anyway, I saw a cool programme on telly recently where the chap rang up the gummint to ask how their "Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy" was going - they didn't have a clue of course, there's no statistics or research of costing of externalities or anything...

... but at least they weren't perturbed by the overly frequent use of the official acronym AHRS, pronounced "arse".


But increasing taxes on alcohol would conflict with other Labour values because it's a regressive tax.

Andrew Zalotocky

Consider what incentives Blair has to engage in managerialism rather than "good practical management":

(1) It's easier. Good practical management requires real expertise and hard work.

(2) It gets more attention. To the media, competent management isn't worth mentioning but grandiose rhetoric is.

(3) It reduces political risk. Practical managers accept responsibility for delivering measurable outcomes, but managerialists only commit to providing unquantifiable "leadership".

(4) It justifies class privilege. If what matters is "leadership" then fitness to govern depends on inherent personal qualities, which the current elite recognise only in themselves.

So perhaps Blair's managerialism is less a matter of ideology than one of responding to incentives.

Maynard Handley

This strategy worked against smoking in the US.
Likewise against drunk driving.
Likewise persuading many (not all, one never does) women to at least quit drinking and smoking while pregnant.

I am all for mocking poorly thought out campaigns, but I need to see proof that the campaign is, in fact, poorly thought out.
Sure, an economist would claim that the only way to achieve any result whatsoever is to dick around with prices. Those of us who live in the real world know that things are more complex.

The campaign may fail because it is run by idiots, or because it is not maintained for long enough. But to say that the very idea is foolish, and accept me to believe this statement simply on your say so is to insult my intelligence.


If you have a 'culture' of something, isn't that evidence that people aren't behaving rationally?

Also, I suspect it's not so much the elasticity of alcohol as the substitution involved that might be the problem in just using prices to control demand. That is, increases in duty are just going to make people choose lower quality drinks, not less. And then you end up having otherwise perfectly respectable teachers drinking Buckfast instead of fine single malt.


Certainly among my oldie friends there is new talk of the number of units consumed and the weekly targets, but so far as I can tell rarely among the young (although a few have dramatically cut down, accompanied by significantly changing their social lives). So too much alcohol ranks with not enough exercise, consuming too many food calories and smoking as areas where behavioural change among the young has to be somehow encouraged. I think that there has been some progress in the exercise, food and smoking areas, but very little yet for drink.

Chris P

I'm surprised that they don't introduce intelligent toilets to alert the Health Police about problem drinking.

Andrew Brown

While you are, of course, right about the last budget not bringing increased tax on alcohol the strategy does talk about the issue. They say:

"The Government will commission an independent national review of evidence on the relationship between alcohol price, promotion and harm, and, following public consultation, will consider the need for regulatory change in the future, if necessary."

Which I'm sure is a sign of some other New Labour characteristic, but not the one you suggested.

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