Alex Massie

More Booze-Related Fraud

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To return to a subject we considered the other day, it seems there's no end to the mendacity ministers are prepared to endorse if it furthers their efforts to tell everyone how to lead their lives. The latest ploy is to argue that the fact that the average Scot consumes 12.2 litres of pure alcohl every year demonstrates that politicians should be allowed to fix alcohol prices. This figure amounts, we are told, to 46 bottles of vodka a year.

Well that doesn't sound all that much, does it? That's a single bottle a week with a dry spell lasting from New Years Day to St Valentines Day. Alternatively, it equates to 11 pints of beer a week. That is, one a day with an extra couple on Fridays and Saturdays. The average Scot, then, can hardly be said to be on the lash all the time. And indeed, international comparisons bear this out. The average Czech gets through 12.99 litres of the pure stuff each year, the average Hungarian 13.6 litres and the average Irishman 13.69 litres. Everyone's an amateur, mind you, compared to the champion topers in Luxembourg who drain 15.56 litres of pure alcohol every year. (All these figures come from the World Health Organisation incidentally.)

South of the border the ideas for drink-control favoured by both Labour and the Conservatives seem even less appropriate. The average Englishman puts away just 9.7 litres of alcohol a year, trailing, among others, Croatia (12.25), Austria (11.08), Belgium (10.63), Cyprus (11.52), Denmark (11.71), France (11.43), Germany (11.99), Portugal (11.54), Slovakia (10.35), Spain (11.68) and Switzerland (10.83).

In other words, in as much as there are problems with alcohol consumption in these islands, they concern patterns of drinking, not quantities. And slapping a minimum price on booze seems highly unlikely to have any impact on that, to say nothing of other legitimate concerns one may have about this sort of government intervention.

But no, despite its own report producing evidence suggesting that the majority of people drink in perfectly sensible quantities and despite admitting that there's been no increase in drink-consumption since 2005, ministers insist that all must be penalised for the transgressions* of a few. To wit:

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said it was time for critics of minimum pricing to "wake up" to the scale of Scotland's drink problem.

She added: "All the evidence tells us that the big rise in Scottish alcohol consumption in recent decades is closely linked with the 70% drop in alcohol's relative cost.

"As a consequence, our country now faces an unprecedented burden from alcohol-related health problems, crime and lost economic productivity, which runs into billions and which we are all paying for.

"Currently there is nothing to stop supermarkets selling alcohol more cheaply than bottled water and that's why it's possible to exceed the weekly drinking guidelines for a man for less than £3.50."

Unfortunately, not much of this is true either. We covered some of this last week and the Filthy Smoker dispensed of the bottled water nonsense (and other myths) last year, but, according to the Office of National Statistics  drink is not cheaper than it was:

Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period.

And to the extent that folk are choosing to buy cheapish booze at the supermarket rather than have a couple of quiet ones in the pub, ministers might reflect on their own role in passing legislation - the smoking ban which, of course, was a gross intrusion upon property rights - that has contributed to the closure of so many pubs around the country. 

Of course, this is what happens when the meaning of "Public Health" shifts from the provision of clean drinking water and reliable sewage systems to whatever nannying "lifestyle" issue politicians decide it is suddenly their business to interfere with.

*Transgressions that, in most cases, could be dealt with perfectly adequately by enforcing existing measures and legislation with no need for yet more bills.

[Hat-tip: Andrew]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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