Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We are all paying the price for cheap alcohol

ALCOHOL Focus Scotland believes urgent government action is required to address the ridiculously low price of alcohol.
Once again, in the run-up to Christmas and New Year, supermarkets are promoting a "booze bonanza" where beer is cheaper than water.

Tesco is offering 60 440ml cans of lager for £20 – just 33p per can – and the most prominent image on the home page of the Asda website is a special offer of three bottles of wine for £10 and two bottles of spirits for £18.

Such promotions are blatantly designed to sell more alcohol.

Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity like tins of soup or loaves of bread. It is a drug which causes increasing harm in our communities. Is it ethical to promote a product so cheaply which has the potential to wreck lives?

The vast majority of alcohol sold for drinking at home is through just six supermarket chains. Supermarkets

need to stop hiding behind arguments that they are responsible merely because they are committed to preventing under-age sales and have signed up to voluntary codes of practice.

The effect of price on alcohol consumption is one of the most researched areas of alcohol policy. The evidence from many international studies is that an overall price increase leads to a reduction in sales, in turn, leading to a reduction in alcohol-related harm. Alcohol overall is now 62 per cent more affordable than in 1980. We are most concerned about drinks that are designed to be drunk quickly or that are particularly strong, such as white ciders.

We are not calling for blanket tax increases but rather additional tariffs on some types of products and an end to the common supermarket practice of below cost sales. Ireland has successful experience of both.

When it removed the tax advantage on cider compared with beer, there was an almost immediate downturn in cider sales. A similar approach could be taken in the UK.

Some say there'
s no reason why responsible drinkers should be prevented from getting a "bargain". But harmful alcohol use is rarely an individual problem – the drinker's behaviour impacts on their children, partner, friends, colleagues and society as a whole.

Others argue that alcohol is cheaper in countries such as Spain or Italy, yet they don't experience the same problems of drunkenness as us. This must be considered in the context of our very different drinking cultures.

The low cost and widespread availability of alcohol in the UK is set against a long-standing culture of social acceptability of drunkenness.

We support Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's intention to end cheap price promotions.

At a cost of over £1 billion per year and rising, Scotland can no longer afford to pay such a high price for our drinking culture.

Jack Law is the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland


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