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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary September 4, 2009



The Price of Minimum Pricing

Now, this minimum pricing thing. I can see the attraction, donít get me wrong. Those supermarket offers are daft and must get right up the nose of any embattled publican. It would feel great to get one over on the big guys. But itís a dangerous road to take.

Just look at yesterdayís announcement by Alex Salmond on Scotlandís new alcohol bill. Minimum pricing, he said, will be the cornerstone of the strategy. But what about the rest of this building?

Scotland proposes to lead the way not only in minimum pricing but in forcing pubs to serve wine in smaller measures (while people can go home and drink it out of a bucket if they want to), making local authorities consider raising the alcohol purchase age to 21 (bringing either post-code chaos and/or a fake ID plague), and the power to introduce a social responsibility fee for some retailers.

Is it worth introducing minimum pricing if all thatís going to come in on the back of it? And the other question has to be, will it really help tackle alcohol problems?

Scotland is taking its cue from an ideology of consumption reduction propogated by the World Health Organisation. Despite all the talk about evidence to support such measures, if the legislation goes through it will be the first time minimum pricing has been tried on a national scale.

There is unlikely to be a mechanical relationship between price and consumption. People are already drinking less, probably because of the recession. And will more expensive booze deter problem drinkers? At what point does an alcoholic say theyíre going to give up drinking now Ė itís got too expensive?


To your stealth!

Hereís a new one. Stealth drinking. Wasnít that what Eric Morecambe was up to behind his arm? (Younger readers ask your mum.) No, according to researchers at Mintel itís when youíre drinking more than you think youíre drinking because alcoholic strength has been creeping up behind you without you noticing.

There are various reasons for this. A market trend towards spirits and spirits-based drinks (such as alcopops), stronger wines (caused by global warming, for technical reasons I donít understand) and a shift towards premium beers.

This is already out of date, though. The alcopop market has collapsed, and for several years there has been a move away from premium draught beers towards super-chilled standard lagers and the success of four per cent ABV imports such as Amstel and Beckís.

Which leaves us with globally warmed wine. Not the worst effect of climate change, but it again raises the question of why people donít choose their wine by alcoholic strength, like people do with beers.

Itís an odd one, but it suggests that beer continues to be considered a less serious drink, consumed only for its alcoholic properties. There is a movement to change this, of course, but getting people to drink beer for its depth and complexity of flavour ahead of its strength could be a long job. And weíll only get accused of getting them drunk by stealth.

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