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Monday, April 2, 2012

Alcohol policy On the floor First in Scotland, then elsewhere, the price of getting drunk will rise

VISIT a British city centre on a Saturday night and a spectacle awaits: lurching revellers, rucked-up skirts and vomit-splashed pavements. Politicians portray this disorderly carousing as a blight on society. The proposed solution—already approved in principle in Scotland and at discussion stage in England—is to make alcohol more pricey. The British Isles have long been have been soaked in drink. Can a floor price sober them up?

Britain is a little drier than it was a few years ago. Drinking has fallen since 2004, breaking a five-decade upward trend. More people are teetotal, the number of underage drinkers has shrunk and consumption by 16- to 24-year-olds is ebbing faster than in the overall population.

But that still leaves a big group of heavy, troublesome drinkers. Bingeing—drinking at least twice the recommended daily limit—is rising. Alcohol was a factor in half of all violent offences in 2009-10, according to the British Crime Survey, and in more than 1m hospital admissions, twice as many as in 2002-03. Chronic liver disease, which has been falling in France, Italy and Spain, has risen in Britain since the 1970s.

This public-health nightmare partly reflects deeply ingrained culture. Britons drink almost as regularly as Mediterraneans but binge like Scandinavians (see chart). Women drink heavily in Britain, and more than they used to. But the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS), a think-tank, argues cost is another factor. It reckons alcohol is 44% more affordable than it was in 1980, because of rising disposable incomes, industry consolidation and supermarkets selling drink as a loss leader. > > > > Read More