Thursday, 23 January 2020

How the regulatory ratchet works

The temperance lobby’s reaction to today’s study showing no impact of minimum pricing on underage drinkers has been depressingly predictable.

For years, they used children as a pretext for minimum pricing, endlessly complaining about ‘pocket money prices’. Here is Alcohol Focus Scotland in 2013, for example;

Chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, Dr Evelyn Gillan, said: ‘We must be aware that our young people are growing up in a proalcohol society where drinking is portrayed as a normal part of everyday life. To better protect our children, one of the best things we can do is to increase the ludicrous pocket money prices at which some alcohol is sold.’

Get that? One of the best. Not one option. Not one possibility. But a proven policy of the first order.

Alcohol Focus Scotland’s message today was rather different. Their current CEO, Alison Douglass, didn’t reflect on the study’s principle findings at all. She barely even mentioned minimum pricing. Instead, she said:

“This study provides a unique – and concerning – insight into the lives of a group of teenage drinkers and shows that the cost of alcohol is only one factor in their alcohol consumption.

The apparent ease with which these young people are able to acquire alcohol raises serious questions about enforcement of existing licensing legislation and age-verification arrangements which are there to protect young people.

.. The research also points to many of the products favoured by these young people as already costing more than 50p per unit, before MUP was introduced. We also know that brands are important to children and young people whether we’re talking about clothes and trainers or indeed alcohol. More needs to be done to address the attractiveness of alcohol by controlling alcohol marketing.”

Scotland’s public health minister, Joe Fiztpatrick, is singing from the same hymn...

“This study of a very small number of young people found where they were consuming alcohol the products were priced above the minimum price of 50p per unit.

We want to go further to protect our children and young people from alcohol harms and that is why I intend this year to consult on potential mandatory restrictions on alcohol marketing and advertising. Scotland will be the first of the UK nations to do so.”

And so the regulatory ratchet continues to turn. As I have said many times before, ‘public health’ is not a results-driven enterprise. Win or lose, the answer is always more bans and higher prices.

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