Pubpaper 697 – BMA Alcohol Harm Reduction Proposals

Posted: 24th February 2013 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing
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I’ve nothing personal against the British Medical Association (BMA), but their latest proposed measures to reduce drinking are somewhat behind the times, the measures they suggest either in place or have been proposed before by several parties. They say all these changes, detailed below, in combination would reduce hospital admissions from alcohol related issues by 98,000 each year, with a crime reduction of 42,500 incidents in the same period.

They start on a relatively reasonable footing with a suggestion that the minimum price per unit should be 50p not 45p and that drinks should be taxed according to their strength.   The second suggestion is already in place in the case of beer with reduced duty rates for those below 2.8% ABV (50% of normal duty) and increased duty on beers over 7.5% ABV (125% of normal duty).  With cider there is a step at 5.5% where the duty on 100 litres of product rises from £38 to £245, a jump of 650%, any cider over 8.5% is classed as a wine and spirit, technically creating a third tier.

Their first point has been discussed by anyone who writes about beer and is generally agreed that the number of drinks sold in pubs affected by this minimum pricing is so small that it would make no real difference to most people if they have the money to spend on beer in the first place. Carling only contains 2.3 units of alcohol, so would be subject to minimum price of £1.15 at 50p per unit, if a pub could sell it at that price and make a profit, there would be queues down the road.  If people really want to drink huge amounts or binge drink then they will whatever.  What this would do it hit the poor unfairly as the lower priced alcohol purchased in shops which would be hit by the biggest price jump is generally consumed by those with less disposable income.

Their next suggestion is that excise rates increase by 10%.  This move would be disastrous at the moment for the pubs which are struggling to survive, give drinkers any more excuse to drink at home and a good number would take that option.  So for simplicity’s sake, take the case of a pint of 6% cider, duty is £1.39 (£1.67 inc VAT) per pint at the moment, this would increase to £1.53 (£1.83 inc VAT).  So the base price of the cider would go up by 16p, typically rounded up to 20p per pint once accountants do their work.   Beer price rises would be slightly lower than this, but still be significant in the eyes of many drinkers when it creeps above that next psychological barrier.

Off sales would affected less as the big supermarkets who sell the vast majority of packaged alcohol in the UK would use their market leverage to get the suppliers to absorb some of the costs.  The smaller, more specialist shops that have to pay the price increases would be the ones which have to increase prices to customers who are typically responsible drinkers looking for a really good quality beer or two for the evening.

Their last suggestion is that multi buy promotions are banned both in pubs and shops.  This is the one which would affect me and the people I drink with least and one that would possibly do some good.  Most pubs do not do multibuy or BOGOF offers, they simply sell drink X at price Y,  the only common promotion you see is to top up your single shot of spirit to a double for a reduced price on the price of a single shot.  The premises which do promote such offers are typically aimed at the 18-26 age group and applies to the low end products such as Carling or Fosters when beer is involved.

The offers more predominantly apply to “ready to drink” products such as WKD or other alcopops.  Spirits are also a common element in these offers, especially house spirits and the trendier drinks such as Jagermiester.  The choice of products means that a large intake of pure alcohol can be consumed very quickly with alcopops flavourings making them like pop to drink and as we all know spirits can last less than a second and be absorbed into the bloodstream a lot later.  This stacking up of units in the body can very often hit the body all at once and you see this when somebody in the pub goes from being slightly annoying to being a danger to other people through their actions. Hence the regular monday morning headlines in the local newspaper.

You may ask about multibuys in supermarkets and shops, yes I do use them from time to time, but they generally only save me 10-15% over regular price, and the removal of multi buys slabs of beer would make pre-loading before going out a lot more expensive, again reducing potential for trouble.  Despite all this, those determined to get seriously drunk will always find the money and means.

If trouble could be reduced in the town centre, then more people would visit and support those who sell beer responsibly, pubs would make more money, and we all would be winners.

BMA, 1 out of 4 isn’t bad, but must do better next time.