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Scotland and Alcohol


#1

Continuing the discussion from How much alcohol do you drink:

So we are a few weeks into Scotland’s 50p minimum alcohol price and I just thought it worth reporting from north of the border.

The aim of this policy was communicated as improving health by removing cheap high alcohol drinks as an option - white cider, super lager and so on. You can argue from a political philosophy viewpoint for and against. It seems to me like a tax on the poor, although that is another discussion. The point I wanted to raise here is about, what I assume are unintended, side effects of the policy.

Scotland, at a macro level, has a bad relationship with alcohol and the Scottish Government is keen to come up with policies to do something about it. So far you can not have your online supermarket order delivered before 10am if it includes alcohol. However, the supermarkets are open all day on Sunday selling booze, unlike in England. And you can go to a back street pub and drink with brekkie too. There are also no multibuys of alcohol allowed. Majestic, who are rather keen on buy two bottles and get it cheaper, get around this by making a single bottle the same price as the multibuy in England. You can obviously still order online multibuys, so long as they come via courier from south of the border - for example when Waitrose do their 25% off all wine deal.

A new effect after minimum pricing is that vouchers the supermarkets issue, of say £5 off a £40 shop, now exclude all alcohol. They are worried in case the voucher might reduce some booze below the 50p/unit price. So when Waitrose send me £18 off £100, whereas I used to go and treat myself to half a dozen of their nice £20 wines, I now cannot and I don’t want to buy £100 of other stuff! M&S meanwhile seem still able to offer a free bottle of wine with their Dine in for Two deal. I’m not sure why. I wrote to the supermarkets and suggested that they exclude wine over £7.50 as even a 15% ABV wine could be discounted by 25% and stay at 50p/unit, but unsurprisingly I just got patronised back.

Scotland remains a beautiful, welcoming part of the UK, hell we even have sunshine this week; but blunt economic instruments to tackle social issues never seem to go well.


#2

Great observations there, I never even gave thought to ‘meal for two’ type deals!

I guess it goes back to ‘what are the alternatives’?

The industry as a whole and lobbyists always say that educating the customer will be the best way, but there are indescribable column inches of health warnings and people ignore it. Is this a kind of last resort for many initiatives that haven’t worked or not had a lot of effort put into them? Or you don’t see it as a problem and it is poor enforcement of the existing laws such as anti-social behaviour which is the problem?


#3

It is maybe not just “what is the alternative”, but what effects will the policy have. For example, I was surprised to learn recently how many online sites sell home distillation kits and how cheap it can be to produce your own moonshine. Not high on my list, but if you are alcohol dependent that might be a way some people go that are priced out of the cheap cider market. Or indeed substituting drugs for alcohol. It isn’t just middle class problem side effects that could result.

We will hopefully see some proper academic work on the impact of these policies in the years to come, but my view currently is that it will just squeeze the problem in other ways. And demonising drink surely isn’t the way. “Moderation in all things” as my very fit 85 year old mother would say.


#4

Is this not just enforcing existing laws?

Aboslutely correct, but trying to reason with the general public, who often use alcohol emotionally rather than a rational, civil pleasure is wishful thinking, imho.


#5

That’s absolutely true - but having counselled many an alcohol/drug dependant client over the last 9 years, it is clear to me that this policy isn’t really aimed at those drinking in moderation. Drug dependency- in its many guises (sugar, anyone?)- will always be part of the human experience, so I don’t honestly believe we can ever eradicate it. So different government will have different emphases and/or solutions, and for each suggestion you can have a hundred criticisms.
For example, I saw the benefits of the Swedish Systembolaget on our recent trips there; it certainly ‘forced’ us to drink less whenever we had forgotten to purchase alcohol in time, and were therefore limited to the 3.75% ABV, or whatever low ABV it was, which the supermarket sold. It is closed on Sundays, as well, so when we weren’t spending time with friends, and on occasions we forgot to buy some, we just ended up without. It wasn’t tragic, and we rather enjoyed it, in a strange way- but there are many detractors to this level of government intervention.

I guess for me, the bottom line is, there just isn’t a perfect solution, as long as human nature is what it is, and governments want to be seen to tackle this social ill in some way. Rather them than me, is my perennial conclusion!


#6

It’s an interesting debate, and inevitably many of these sanction based approaches are often blunt instruments. I was reading another blog post about the genetic/biochemical vulnerabilities of alcoholism recently that may be of interest to the wider community…


#7

That’s a really interesting article, @Alchemist!
What seems clear (to me at least)- is that it is unlikely we will ever quite be able to turn alcoholism (or indeed, any drug dependency) to a ‘disease’ using a pure medical model. In humans it is definitely a very complex interplay of genes and environmental factors. To give one example, there is plenty of neurobiological research that shows beyond doubt, that lack of love and bonding at birth and in the formative years (or, worse- neglect, violence, or chronically unpredictable environment)- actually alter the shape of the brain, with direct implication for the size of the amygdala. For babies/toddlers who are constantly flooded with stress-hormones such as cortisol- this further complicates the biological and chemical make up, and hamper development of resilience. So in a sense, it’s a difficult question to answer: what made the amygdala respond in different way to external stimuli? a start in life which was stressful and traumatic- and which changed the chemical make up, or was the person born this way? Or was it an interplay?

A fascinating book on the subject is called Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain, by the wonderful Sue Gerhardt:


#8

How about this set of stats
https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/causesofdeathover100years/2017-09-18
There is a lot of comment about policy, but you can see where it comes from. Seat belts (I remember paying for rear seat belts to be fitted in a car to remain within the law) and the reduction in road traffic injury (yes, I know, improvements in car safety too. Tobacco control and cardiovascular/respiratory disease (the link between smoking and lung cancer was made many, many years before tobacco control really was legislated for. Interesting for epidemiology nerds but, pretty clear imho.
It’s not about quality, it’s about the quantity. Law changes can actually have a major positive impact.
The country has not mandated childhood immunisation which has massively reduced childhood and adult premature deaths, but the vast majority of the eligible population have understood the benefit and take up the offer, enough of them to make it safer for those who have not.


#9

I’ve been convinced by the minimum unit pricing arguments for quite a while and really feel the industry opposition (as illustrated by the WSTA lobbying) is wrongheaded and really just plays into the hands of those who would like to treat alcohol in the same vein as the tobacco debate, if you refuse to accept reasonable legislation you risk draconian measures. I think the meal for two argument is a red herring as the cost of the purchase is £10 (unless there’s a dine for two option which is lower in some outlets/markets) and anyone wanting to buy alcohol on a lower than MUP basis would not really choose to bundle it with food.

I do accept the objection around it being unfair on non-problem drinkers on lower incomes but there are worse injustices being perpetrated on such folks which deserve addressing first. Talking to people who have to deal with the problems caused by alcohol convinced me it is a step worth taking - I wish it were introduced south of the border.


#10

My original post was intended to highlight the inconsistencies and unintended consequences for moderate drinkers of the MUP policy. The responses to the thread appear to be more directed at support for the policy, and that any unintended consequences are a price worth paying, which is entirely fair comment.

Nonetheless, I do think it is important not to view alcohol abuse as merely an “other” issue. If you earn a £100k then it makes no difference if the price goes up; on minimum wage it may well do. To my mind there is danger in a policy that targets the poor, as after all “they are the poor souls who can’t drink sensibly” .

Years ago I used alcohol immoderately to say the least, but my tipple of choice was Ch Beaucastel at about 10 years old. Hundreds of bottles of it. I got past it, but some of the most consistently heavy drinkers I have come across (having since moved in various circles) are professionals earning high salaries. They just never drank white cider and they are maybe more likely to drink out of the media gaze.

I would anticipate a response that we are better doing something than nothing. It might at least tackle the problem for the less well off. Maybe it makes the government feel they are doing something, and being a bit different than England. Maybe it’s a start, but it causes me unease in its implied view of class and addiction.

I’m off to put my tin hat on now and hide in cave.


#11

I agree it is a good example of ‘the law of unintended consequences’. I strongly recommend a book called ‘The Blunders Of Our Governments’ for lots more examples.


#12

Possibly a McNation will be Belgian for the evening, not bothered by Mrs Sturgeons entreaty to consume less ethanol, even though the price is truly scandalous!! LOL!
Only joking, guv!


#13

@dinkydodah, you are correct in so many levels here . The poorer in society have always been tarred with the addiction and bad living stereotypes and it bothers me . It bothers me that an increase in alcohol or anything else would directly effect one demographic far more than another . My younger brother recently put it in perspective for me … he has had some pretty major health issues in the past few years and while he will hopefully recover at some point , he is on a disability benefit currently as he can’t work . At the beginning of the academic year I took my then 4 year old to get her school shoes . I purchased her doc marten shoes thinking that they would do her for the full year and they have . He did the same with his daughter but purchased what he could afford , around £20 . They fell apart within 8 weeks . He purchased her another which did her til Christmas. He has purchased her 5 pairs of shoes since the beginning of the school year . My point is , being poorer means infact you pay twice almost for everything because you can’t afford to pay for the decent stuff in the first place, therefore spending MORE than that original pair of docs ! It’s a vicious Ferris wheel that doesn’t end ! :frowning:


#14

Leah
I cannot but applaud your post for the truth that you say.
I saw an article on BBC News a couple of years ago regarding feminine hygiene products and the fact that single mums and daughters in disadvantaged households could not always afford them.
Being a man, I had no idea that this embarrassing deprivation existed.
So from time to time, in my local supermarket I seek out the manager, hand him a tenner and ask him to task one of his female employees to spend the money on a bag full of these products that can go into a bin that holds donations to food banks.
Ok. I’m not going to change the world but it is my ever so small way of making a difference.
It’s only the price of a bottle of Guigal CdR, and I’m not going to miss that!!


#15

What a lovely thing to do @Taffy-on-Tour. It’s the things like this that make a difference in people’s lives. That is a very kind gesture and I’m sure those women are eternally grateful to you.


#16

Very well put, regardless of intentions it is the lower payed who will take the knock, but governments are not really interested in the cause and effect they are interested in showing willing to tackle something especially if you can tack on a health warning, it makes them look virtuous in the general scheme of things.
And yes with a few exceptions the worst cases of excess drinking have been the ones I knew who could afford it.
The hypocrosy knows no bounds where politicians are concerned the Westminster cut price tax payer funded bars are proof of that.


#17

The difficulty here is made worse by the large scale bombardment with very cheap, almost disposable clothing. Sometimes in vast stores. This creates a mindset which looks for a ‘bargain’ rather than quality. There is also the cultural peer pressure on our young. Trainers are a good example. How many are wearing fake ‘brand’ trainers thinking they have got the real thing at a bargain price. When this translates to alcohol, a 2l bottle of white cider is a bargain, whereas looking for a quality cider is out of the question. Having worked with young people for 40 years, I have some understanding of the group dynamic that operates. The supermarket bulk buy of beers and ciders is a sure way to enhance someone’s standing in the group. This week I observed a group of local youngsters heading to a reservoir (I know a tragedy in the making), but the body language of the group was a key indicator of status etc. The one carrying the 24 bottle pack of Budweiser had the swagger and was slightly ahead of the others, like a Roman General. I would outlaw these bulk promotions.