The ConDem coalition have recently introduced a minimum price limit on alcohol in an effort to curb Britain’s binge drinking culture. Under this scheme, it is illegal to sell alcohol for less than the price of the tax that is paid on them. In real terms this means that a litre of vodka cannot be sold for less than around £10 a litre and lager will cost at least 38 pence for an average 440ml can. Supposedly these changes will cut alcohol related crime while reducing the health risks associated with heavy drinking. In Britain there is often a direct association made between student culture and binge drinking, and, given our limited budgets, as a social group we are therefore one which is specifically targeted by the government’s plans.
There is much to be said for the notion of attempting to control the alcohol fuelled violence, as I’m certain any of us have seen in a rowdy town centre on any Friday or Saturday night. I’m no stranger to the cheap night out, as I am sure can be said for the majority of students, nor to the cringe worthy morning after in which the ridicule for your actions is all the more shaming for being unable to recall them. Alcohol has become an endemic part of our culture, and it is difficult to imagine what it would be like if drinking became costly enough that sensible sobriety became the general preference.
Let’s face it, the scenario is extremely unlikely, even in light of the coalition’s attempts. The scheme has come under heavy fire from critics, including the British Medical association. While studies have demonstrated that increasing the price in alcohol decreases levels of drunken behaviour (give the man a medal), when looked at in reality the proposals made are almost completely ineffectual. Virtually no retailers, even supermarkets, retail alcohol for less than 38 pence for a can of lager anyway. Even with my dwindling bank balance, I’m sure £10 for a litre of vodka would be manageable if I fancied drinking myself to an early death. The idea in itself is perfectly sensible, but the feeble extent to which the government have enforced the new law renders the whole thing laughable.
Experts have suggested that in order to make an effect alcohol should be sold at a minimum price per unit of at least 50 pence. Under the coalition’s new controls it costs only 21 pence per unit. While it has been predicted that the introduction of the price limit will save around 21 alcohol induced deaths, studies show that if the limit were increased to 50 pence, 3000 deaths might be prevented.
Obviously such a radical proposal would be extremely unpopular, and therefore there is no way the government would be able to push through such a bill without bashing for being a nanny state, and I don’t think such a law could realistically be passed in this day and age. Which is a relief because, on a personal level, I’m sure most of us are quite happy that it’s easy to get hold of a cheap bottle of Frosty Jacks when our budgets are somewhat stretched. For the most part the drink fuelled antics of student life are relatively harmless.
However, whilst I believe a radical hike in the cost of alcohol is extremely unrealistic, a compromise between that and the current proposal is surely not unthinkable. There is no way that, in severe circumstances, the cost of alcohol will put off heavy duty alcoholics- in much the same way that drug addicts will go to any cost to get their fix. But in the case of the regular drinker, a reasonable increase in cost might well slightly curb our intake, and the extremities of intoxication that can regularly be seen on campus. What the government are missing, however, is that whilst from a practical sense the financial cost of drinking is a large factor in the increase in consumption in the last century, if we really want to change the binge drinking culture, it begins with changing attitudes. Engaging with the electorate will always be more effectual than imposing pointless yet condescending laws that will do little to help anyonE, but will irritate just about everyone.