Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Minimum pricing still failing


Minimum pricing was supposed to reduce alcohol sales in Scotland by 3.5 per cent in its first year. Politicians and campaigners left us in no doubt that it would reduce consumption. Alas, with nine months of sales data now available, the previously reported increase has been confirmed...

Scots are drinking more despite minimum pricing

Scots have bought more alcohol since minimum pricing laws came into force, an analysis has found.

Nielsen, a data specialist company, found that 203.5 million litres of alcohol was purchased from shops in Scotland over the 46 weeks to March 29, an increase of 1.8 million litres — the equivalent of four million cans of lager or 2.4 million bottles of wine — on the same period in 2017-18, according to The Mail on Sunday.

The article doesn't say what the change in units (as opposed to volume) is, but the Nielsen figures I've seen show a two per cent increase in alcohol units purchased since then end of April 2018.

As expected, there has been a big, double-digit decline in cider and perry which has been more than compensated for by a surge in spirits, ready-to-drink (RTD) and fortified wine. Beer sales have also risen.

It now seems almost certain that the campaigners-turned-evaluators (this is the 'public health' racket we're talking about here) won't be able to claim any decline in alcohol consumption in the first year. Nevertheless, the state-funded temperance group Alcohol Focus Scotland is strangely optimistic:

Alison Douglas, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said she was confident that further evaluation would show “minimum unit pricing delivers clear benefits”.

I bet she is. The studies might as well have been written before the policy was implemented. Unable to show an actual decline in consumption, the evaluators at Sheffield and Stirling Universities (for it is they) will have to resort to using a back-of-the-envelope counterfactual which will doubtless conclude that consumption is lower than it would have been in the absence of minimum pricing.

This will then be presented to the media as a decline and the policy will be declared as a success, albeit with the caveat that the unit price should be raised to 60p.

It remains to be seen whether the public will swallow any of this. Minimum pricing is costing Scottish consumers tens of millions of pounds. It is one thing to accept this as the cost of reducing alcohol consumption, but shelling out large quantities of cash to increase consumption by a bit less than a theoretical model suggests it might have increased by is a harder sell.

Incidentally, I hear that the Scottish government is running a heavy anti-alcohol advertising campaign focusing on the drinking guidelines, presumably in the hope that 'education' will succeed where minimum pricing seems to be failing.

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