The Big Question: Will banning cheap offers lead to people drinking less?

Why are we asking this now?

A new code will ban pubs and clubs from running irresponsible drinks promotions. From April, pubs, clubs and nightclubs will be banned from offering "All you can drink for £10" or "dentist's chairs" where liquids are squirted into mouths, and will be forced to offer free tap water. From October, they will be obliged to offer wine in small and large glasses and spirits in single and double measures, while all alcohol sellers will be required to check whether buyers are under 18 as a condition of their licence. Fines for selling alcohol to minors will be doubled. The Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the measures were needed to limit alcohol-related crime, which is costing the country between £8bn and £13bn a year.

Why is action needed?

Alcohol is blamed for a series of ills: illness including liver cirrhosis, obesity and impaired brain function; crime including assault, rape and murder, domestic violence; anti-social behaviour and public disorder such as shouting, urination and vomiting; economic activity through lost days at work; and the spread of venereal disease and unwanted pregnancies as a result of unprotected sex.

According to a study by the National Social Marketing Centre in 2007, the total annual cost of alcohol misuse in England is £55.1bn: £21bn to individuals and households from loss of income and informal care costs; £21bn in other human costs; £7.3bn to employers through absenteeism and other problems; £2.8bn to public health and care services; and £2.1bn to the criminal justice system. Thirty-one per cent of men and 21 per cent of women drink hazardously or harmfully. The Royal Collage of Physicians estimates alcohol kills 30,000 to 40,000 people a year. Some 3.5 million people are "dependent" on alcohol.

Why do people drink, then?

Academics and policymakers tend to ignore the positive effects of alcohol, but, anecdotally, they are: an increased sense of relaxation and bonhomie; greater sensory appreciation of music, colour, movement and conversation; increased social and community cohesion; increased likelihood of romantic liaisons and sexual intercourse ('Beer: helping ugly people have sex since 1862' is a T-shirt slogan).

Why target pubs, clubs and nightclubs?

A significant minority of off-licences and other shops (the off-trade) and pubs and clubs (the on-trade) were flouting the voluntary Social Responsibility Standards agreed in 2005. While there was some good practice, a review by consultants KPMG in 2008 found alcohol was being sold to children; binge drinking was being promoted through low-price offers including inducements by DJs to consumer greater quantities and encouragement to down shooters 'in one'; alcohol was being glamorized through links with sexual imagery; and there were poor dispersal practices at pubs and clubs and consequent evidence of anti-social behaviour and low-level crime such as fights and assaults.

What else might ministers have tried?

The other option open to ministers was to introduce minimum pricing. Retailers of alchohol could be required to sell it for a certain amount, such as, say, 50p per unit.

Who supports minimum pricing?

Almost everyone apart from the drinks industry and the Government, and, probably, millions of members of the public of voting age. Academics say that raising the price of drinks reduces consumption. Those backing a minimum price include Martin Plant, Professor of Addiction Studies at the University of West England, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, the British Medical Association, the Commons Health Select Committee and CAMRA, the real ale campaign which says pubs are losing trade to supermarkets selling bargain lager, cider and vodka. While consumption in the on-trade (pubs etc) is falling, it is rising at home, largely due to the relative cheapness of supermarket alcohol.

But why not ministers?

After Sir Liam Donaldson annual report last March, Gordon Brown said: "We don't want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more or suffer as a result of the excesses of a minority."

Is he right about that?

Not according to the Health Select Committee (HSC), which called for minimum pricing in a report this month which scorned successive Governments for failing to put in place an effective alcohol strategy.

By virtue of their moderate consumption, moderate drinkers would be little affected by minimum pricing, said the cross-party committee. On the other hand, it said, it would most target the heaviest drinkers, particularly young people and the working classes, who suffer disproportionately high levels of liver disease. One in 10 Britons consume 44 per cent of all alcohols.

Last year Sheffield University concluded that a 50p minimum price per unit would cut alcohol consumption by 7 per cent across the board and 10 per cent cut among heavy drinkers. If set at 40p a unit, a woman would be able to buy the maximum recommended 15 units a week for £6.

What about Scotland?

The Scottish National Party-dominated Scottish Executive is in favour of minimum pricing. It has not identified the price per unit but a figure of 40p per unit has been mentioned.

The measure is opposed by Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats but supported by health professionals, including the directors of public health at the country's 14 local health boards and the heads of Health Protection Scotland, NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service's medical service. The Welsh Assembly is considering minimum pricing.

So how much do we drink?

Drinking was highest in the 19th Century before the Victorians sought to divert working people away from cheap gin and beer and towards more virtuous pursuits, such as reading and museums. With the exception of the 1930s Depression and two world wars, consumption fell to a low point after the second world war era, in the late forties and fifties. It began to rise again markedly in the 1960s and 1970s as alcohol became more affordable, peaking in the early 21st Century before dipping in the last few years, amid publicity about anti-social behaviour and binge-drinking. While modern drinking looks relatively modest, it is much higher than it was a few decades ago.

What hope the latest crackdown will actually work?

The HSC said last month: "Faced by a mounting problem, the response of successive Governments has ranged from the non-existent to the ineffectual... Evidence showed a rise in the price of alcohol was the most effective way of reducing consumption just as its increasing affordability since the 1960s had been the cause of the major rise in consumption." The Government says minimum pricing is not a "magic bullet". It has fired an airgun pellet instead.

Should there be a minimum price for alcohol?

Yes...

* Raising prices is the most effective way of reducing consumption. Those drinking most would be hardest hit

* It encourages responsible drinking in pubs, which already charge more than suggested minimums

* Police favour minimum pricing, amid signs of young people "pre-loading" on cheap booze before going out

No...

* Moderate drinkers should not be financially penalised for having an occasional drink

* It might distract politicians from increasing policing in town centres and combating alcohol addiction

* A small minority of drinkers cause most of the problems; they should be targeted specifically and individually

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Industrial Gas Burner Engineer

£26000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Industrial Gas Burner Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Inside Sales Manager - Accountancy Software - £80,000 OTE

£50000 - £60000 per annum + £80,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - BIM Software - £55,000 OTE

£40000 per annum + OTE £55,000 +Pension : h2 Recruit Ltd: An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital