Monday 30 June 2014

Dispatches' minimum pricing "experiment"

Channel 4 scientist at work

This has to be seen to be believed. Tonight, Antony Barnett (pictured above) will be doing his bit for the cause of minimum pricing by making a programme about 'binge drinking' (a phrase that already sounds like it belongs in a nostalgia show called I Love 2004).

I dare say that you can expect plenty of footage of drunks fighting and falling over in the street, but don't expect to hear that there has been an 18 per cent decline in alcohol consumption in the last decade, or that binge drinking amongst 16-24 year olds has been falling for years, or that there is less violence today than there has been for twenty years, or that alcohol taxes in Britain are amongst the highest in the world.

What you can certainly expect is the most laughable attempt to 'prove' that minimum pricing 'works' that has ever been broadcast. Dispatches—for it is they—have provided this parody of science in its trailer. I had to watch it twice to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Basically, they got some young adults who like to have a few drinks before they go out (so-called 'pre-loading') and brought them to an off licence.

"We set up a little experiment. We mocked up a few shelves at Mr Shiraz's off licence and applied a minimum price of 50p on similar drinks to those they'd bought earlier."


"And we told them they could only spend the same as they'd spent before—up to £8 each."

I beg your pardon?

"...we told them they could only spend the same as they'd spent before—up to £8 each."

Let's get this straight: you get people who are buying cheap alcohol and then you put up the price to see if they buy more or less alcohol, but you prevent them from buying more by capping how much they're allowed to spend.

Are you kidding me? The central question about minimum pricing is whether people will drink less or spend more. If you stop them spending more, obviously they are going to drink less, but it's not very realistic, is it? Or does the minimum pricing policy also involve a dingbat in NHS glasses physically restraining anybody who tries to spend more money on alcohol than they used to?

Having rigged the experiment with an all-important caveat, Barnett concludes with the following triumphant conclusion...

"With the same amount of money there was a difference in the amount of alcohol they bought."

No kidding! It's, like, a miracle or something.

"The results show that a minimum unit price of 50p has led to them buying roughly 30 per cent less alcohol."

Well, that's one in the eye for the sceptics. Get that sucker written up and submitted to the Lancet.

Good grief. If this is the trailer, how bad of the rest of it going to be? Find out on Channel 4 at 8pm.


Will Needham said...

Oh my me.

At last conclusive evidence of the effectiveness of minimum pricing.

The sheer desperation of those who would control us. They really do think we are that thick.

Fredrik Eich said...

They should have used a minimum unit price of £8.01 . That way they could claim they made them teetotal.
But shoplifting does not carry a harsh penalty for a first offense.

Tim Almond said...

Is it worth me writing a complaint? Will Channel 4 or the independent regulator bother to listen?

Oh, and "pre-loading" started with the smoking ban. I've seen it in the last place I work. They don't meet at the pub, they meet at someone's house. Because no-one likes to spend time in pubs now unless they have to (you can't pick up women at home).

Anonymous said...

@ The Stigler

I don't think it did start with the smoking ban. Everyone I know did it before then. It was mainly an economic decision: shop booze is a lot cheaper, so it makes sense.

Under MUP, shop booze will be, er, still cheaper.. so aside from the bloody obvious fact that higher prices = lower consumption! it will make bog all difference to 'pre-loading'. Far more likely it will mean that the already-more-expensive pub trade will lose out as more of the nightly budget gets spent in Asda.

Paul Power said...

This reminds me of an old story from a Soviet dissident. He had a heart problem and so was often taking his pulse. A doctor asked him his pulse rate once and he replied with some odd number. The doctor told him this was impossible, it had to be an even number (per minute). Later the dissident figured out the doctor's thinking: he was trained to count for 30 seconds and then multiply by 2. The doctor had noticed the resulting rate was always an even number and mistook this for a fact about the heart, not arithmetic.

Jonathan Bagley said...

Looking at it through the mind of a smoker, and over 30% of young people smoke, I agree with Stigler. You want to delay going indoors for as long as possible, particularly to a club, where I presume walking in and out at will isn't possible. They'll be thanking the Lord for ecigs, maybe banned in principle in the future, but impossible to actually ban. It's really got little to do with the price of alcohol. Nothing much has changed since 1991, when I worked in an Off Licence and was aware of pub and cheap off sales prices.

Tim Almond said...


I'm not thinking so much about the problem about going in and out, so much as WHY people still go to pubs.

Smokers hate going to pubs now. It's just rubbish. You're paying a premium price to stand in the rain. Either with your mates who are also smoking, or away from your mates who are in the pub. No-one wants that. It's worse than being at home, and you're paying for it.

But you can't pull drinking at home with your mates. You have to go to the pub, so even as a smoker, you have to put up with that. But everyone knows that things don't get interesting until later. So, they now do more drinking at home first rather than suffering it any longer.

I knew a few poor students that either pre-loaded or carried a hip-flask with booze, but most people didn't.