Monday, June 09, 2008

Drinkers, You're Next!

As I mentioned many moons ago (before the smoking ban came into effect) the next target on the Government hit list would be drinkers.

Like smokers, drinkers are an easy target. They pay a huge amount in taxes and duty, and because of their habits, generally enjoy a shorter life thus relieving their burden on the state in retirement (pensions, nursing homes, long term care etc). Drinkers, like smokers, are also doing something which is perfectly legal - but seen by the Nanny State as a "bad thing".

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has proposed an "alcohol squad" to help towns with the most drink-related hospital admissions fight their alcohol problems. The aim, like everything else, is to improve the nation's health and was announced at the same time as an initiative to cut obesity in the youth of the country.

I can see this back firing in the long term, but hey, who thinks about the long term? Apparently, the Department of Health highlighted evidence to show that for every eight people who received brief advice, one cut down on the amount of alcohol they drank. So that's up to 12.5% less alcohol being sold. Which would mean less tax and revenue from Duty. Pubs will require less staff, meaning less Income Tax and National Insurance, plus a possible increase in Income Support.

Obviously, there would be a way of recovering the Duty and VAT lost, simply by putting the levels up, but this wouldn't be politically very sensible as most people seem to think the Government already over tax them as it is. They'd be right too. But the other method of recovering the lost Duty and VAT is even more dubious - forcing retailers to put the price up.

Funnily enough that's exactly what's been suggested. The Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire has said over the weekend that supermarkets are "making as much money out of people's miseries as they can" and that prices need to be raised. He goes further, though:
"I think there needs to be some control on prices and I wouldn't have it as self-service. I would have it sold under the counter like cigarettes because alcohol is just as dangerous as tobacco."

Yes, that's right, *under* the counter. Good work there Chief! I can imagine it's been quite some time since you've been in a shop, but at the minute, cigarettes are available OVER the counter. Although not for the want of trying.

Also, not sure if you're aware of this - being a copper and all - but it's actually illegal for prices to be fixed. See this handy Government document, specifically the third item down which says
Competition law prohibits almost any attempt to fix prices - for example, you cannot impose minimum prices on different distributors such as shops.

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco's executive director for corporate and legal affairs, said action would have to come from the government, but it was willing to enter into discussions. She said:
"We can't put up our prices because people will simply shop elsewhere - it could be commercial suicide - and we can't act together to put up prices because that would be against competition law."

That was on the back of the British Medical Association (who represent Doctors, well known for their love of a good old drink up) demanding in February that prices should be increased to discourage drinkers.

The British Medical Association report said pricing and promotion of drinks was fuelling an "alcohol epidemic". It called for an end to happy hours in pubs and cut-price supermarket deals as well as improved access to treatment. The BMA report is based on placing greater restrictions on the availability and access to alcohol. It did not recommend how large the tax hike should be, but pointed out a 10% rise could reduce alcohol-related deaths by nearly 30%. Alternatively, it could do fuck all apart from increase shoplifting and people poisoned by drinking meths, but the BMA aren't going to mention that, are they?

Obviously, the alcohol industry are up in arms about this. Michael Thompson, head of communications at the Portman Group, which is supported by the UK's leading drinks producers, said:
"We need to change the drinking culture by making drunkenness socially unacceptable, proper enforcement of alcohol laws by police, better education and a crackdown on the minority of rogue traders who serve alcohol to children should be our priorities,"

All of which are true. More to the point, if I drink to excess, but don't harm anyone, that's my decision to take. Not the Government's. I can get pissed and know I'm doing my bit for the country. If I die early, good, I've saved the Government a whole heap of money down the line while contributing tons now. Stop deciding what is and what isn't good for me - I will make my own choices, thank you very much.

But I'm sure Middle Class England will be backing the Chief Constable, the Health Secretary and the BMA, because they think that alcohol related problems are down to the poor, the stupid and the North.

Sadly, they'd be wrong.

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