Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The race is on

As reported just before Christmas, the European Court of Justice has ruled that minimum pricing is illegal if other anti-drinking measures would be (a) more effective and (b) less disruptive to trade. The court strongly suggested that alcohol tax rises would be more effective in achieving the Scottish government's stated aims of addressing heavy drinking and reducing alcohol consumption across the population.

The Scottish government and its front groups (eg. Alcohol Focus Scotland) are on a sticky wicket here because one of the bugs (or is a feature?) of minimum pricing is that it will have the least effect on the rich. Since the rich tend to be the heaviest drinkers, it is hard to argue that minimum pricing is more effective than alcohol duty rises in discouraging heavy drinking, nor is it the best way to reduce alcohol consumption across the whole population.

The matter has now been tossed back to the Scottish courts, leaving us in the strange situation in which the drinks industry has to claim that alcohol duty rises are reasonably effective and the neo-temperance lobby have to claim they are not as great as they had previously led us to believe.

I can imagine the frantic scenes in the 'public health' industry on December 23rd when they realised they would have to get some evidence that minimum pricing is better than taxes into the public domain before the Scottish court sat. You may recall that after David Cameron rejected minimum pricing because it would hurt the poor, a new version of the Sheffield model was published in The Lancet which concluded that, actually, y'know, it wouldn't be as regressive as previous versions had predicted. What a happy coincidence that was.

I don't know how long it takes to cobble together a 'public health' study and get it through the not-very-rigorous review process, but the activist-academics have now been given some extra time to get their story straight.

Minimum alcohol pricing delayed for further evidence

Scottish courts have agreed to accept further evidence before making the final decision over whether Scotland can legally introduced a minimum price for alcohol.

The inner house of the court of session met last week to consider the recent ruling of the European court of justice, and decided to hear more material. The final hearing will provisionally be June.

Five months should be enough. The only question is who'll be getting the (taxpayers') money for the commission, which journal will print it, and when. The odds on favourite has to be Sheffield University, but other runners and riders include Liverpool and Sterling, both of whom have a solid record for policy-driven research.

As for which magazine accepts it, The Lancet is always keen to help but the British Medical Journal and Addiction are also good bets. If I had to put money on it, I would go for Sheffield in the BMJ in May. Watch this space.

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