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Debate: Should we introduce minimum pricing of alcohol to limit sales of cheap booze and curb anti-social behaviour?



What's going on?

Update: 13/03/13

Plans to ban cheap beers and spirits by imposing a minimum price on units of alcohol are set to be shelved by David Cameron following a Cabinet row over the moves.

Under the proposals, which are strongly supported by David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, a minimum price of 45p per unit would be set in England and Wales in an attempt to reduce binge-drinking and curb alcohol-fuelled crime.

However, the plans have been opposed by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and her Liberal Democrat deputy Jeremy Browne

Case for: "Drunk" isn't "free"

Keeping booze prices low doesn't protect the poor, it protects the profits of the drinks industry and, as the history of prohibition should demonstrate, this is an industry that's more than capable of looking after itself. While less harmful drugs like cannabis have been outlawed, alcohol remains legal and freely available despite abundant evidence of the damage it causes to individuals and society. If you're worried about protecting the freedom to get drunk on the cheap, worry about this instead: the freedom to move about public spaces without fear of drink-related violence and the freedom to use an NHS unburdened by drink-related injury and illness. Minimum pricing is a simple, efficient measure that will do a lot of good.

Case against: Punishing the poor

This is a tax on the poor, pure and simple. Any policy that introduces a minimum price is a blatant mechanism for pricing the poor out of the market. And here, as ever, the poor are taking the blame for much wider social ills. Instead of blaming the poor for binge drinking, and so stigmatising them further, we should apply the liberal principle that the state does not know best what is good for individuals, and if poor people wish to drink until they're drunk - just like those pesky middle class types who prefer Chardonnay - they should be free to.