Thursday, September 15, 2011

Yet more alcohol nonsense

So, Alcohol Focus Scotland and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems have today produced a joint report urging further measures to tackle Scotland's supposed alcohol problem. In addition to the SNP's minimum pricing idiocy (which I remain convinced will immediately fall foul of EU competition law), they want the government to:

- introduce special alcohol-only lanes in supermarkets
- further restrict the off-license hours from 10pm to 8pm.

I can't help but feel that they are directly out to get me with these measures. See, I don't have any issue with alcohol, but I do occasionally like to take a drink, and so occasionally buy a few beers, a bottle of wine, or whatever. And, for reasons of convenience, I do my weekly shop at 9pm on Monday evening, on my way home from band.

So, they now expect me to do a special mini-shop just to buy a couple of beers, and they expect me to re-arrange my week to do it? Sod that. It's already bad enough when I find I arrive at the checkouts at 9:56 and so cannot buy those few beers I wanted (or, in the worst instance, I wanted to buy one beer to put in a steak-and-ale casserole, but couldn't because it was only 9:30 in the morning).

The most infuriating this about this idiocy is that there is a really simple measure that would at a stroke have the desired effects: simply revoke the licenses of all supermarkets, newsagents, and the like. Basically, if it is not the primary purpose of a business to sell alcohol, then disallow them from selling alcohol.

Doing so would immediately and dramatically increase the price of alcohol (as supermarkets would no longer use it as a loss-leader to pull people into the store), it would immediately make buying alcohol much less convenient (since you'd need to go to a specialist store), and it would immediately improve the health of an awful lot of small traders (as all those off-licenses would suddenly get a boost in sales, and our pubs would see an increase in sales). Plus, overall consumption would probably massively decrease, which would quickly eliminate a lot of our public order problems.

It's a really simple measure. It would have all the effects desired, and several other good effects.

But it isn't done, and why not? Well, because the government don't really want to fix the problem or to significantly reduce sales, they just want to look like they're taking tough action. After all, if they really reduced sales, they would also drastically reduce the revenue that they get from alcohol duties. They would sorely damage the whisky industry. And, of course, they'd really annoy the supermarkets.

And so we have measures like those suggested in the report, and the nonsense of minimum pricing, and people unable to buy sensible amounts of alcohol at sensible times that are just outside the arbitrary government mandates. They nibble around the edges, constantly adjusting things and talking tough, and never actually taking the single, simple step that would deal decisively with the problem.


Cap'n Ric said...

There is a problem with alcohol though, which there isn't with something like smoking. And that is that where the government could happily turn smoking into a social stigma, because even one a day is manky, or could happily turn drink driving into a social stigma, because doing it even once is crazy; they can't do the same with alcohol.

They need to make a distinction between "a little alcohol occasionally is ok" so as not to stigmatise occasional social drinkers like you and "drinking to excess is wrong" to deal with the problems in society. And that's a pretty hard thing to bally (word verification) well do.

Steph/ven said...

While that's true, they're going about it in completely the wrong way.

The fundamental problem is that people like to go out specifically to get drunk. And, indeed, it's pretty common for them to drink large amounts before they go out, because the pubs and clubs are so expensive.

So, they go and buy the cheapest alcohol they can from the supermarkets, take that home, and drink that. A measure like minimum pricing therefore will not work - people will just migrate from the current "cheapest possible" to the new "cheapest possible". There will be a small reduction in sales, but in order to cause a big reduction they will have to have a big increase in price - and thus make alcohol the privilidge of the rich.

Likewise, reducing the licensing hours only works if we're dealing with idiots. But we're not - people are quite capable of planning far enough ahead to buy their eight litres of cheap cider ahead of time.

And enforcing alcohol-only lanes likewise just creates inconvenience for the responsible drinker - in fact the irresponsible drinker is now encouraged to make a special trip for alcohol, so is likely to think they'll make fewer, larger trips... and as we well know, if you stock up on something, it never seems to last as long as it should. So that's a particularly idiotic move.

Furthermore, it's all so unnecessary. We have laws in place that it is illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is already drunk. We have laws in place about drunk and disorderly behaviour. We already have the laws to deal with these issues - all we need to do is actually enforce them.

But if we must have an additional measure in place to deal with this, then I remain convinced that what I put forward is as close to a magic bullet as we can manage - revoke the licenses of supermarkets, newsagents and the like, and rule that unless the primary purpose of the business is to sell alcohol then that business does not sell alcohol (off-license, that is).