July 9, 2007

So the tories want a higher taxation on alcohol. Great! The reasoning, of course, is that if alcohol costs more, then they’ll have solved Britain’s alcohol dependency. Hmm, gee, I don’t think so.

Who is the taxation supposed to hit? If it’s supposed to hit the binge drinkers (allow me to label people so crassly into “binge drinker” and “non-binge drinker” for one moment), then it’s a lost cause. People enjoy drink. If you really fancy getting wasted on a Wednesday morning/afternoon/evening, then you’ll do it — the cost is not what matters, the alcohol is. With alcohol still available, albeit at higher cost, people will still drink to excess. All that might happen is that purchasing patterns may be affected.

They argue that the price hike shouldn’t really affect “normal” people, or so they said on the news, as if to suggest that we can all feel happy and proud of ourselves that we aren’t binge drinkers. It’s always black and white like that when politicians try to push something through which doesn’t affect them so greatly.

In my varied experience, the price of alcohol, albeit not in real terms, has risen by about 50 – 100% in the last 6 or 7 years. I’d hazard that this equates to a rise in real terms also. What has this done to curb binge drinking?

Well, I’d argue none. If the news reports that are to be believed, we’re all lucky to have any livers left.

No, taxation is not the answer to alcohol dependency. Taxation is the response of a politician looking to make an impact within the timespan he has in office or looking for his/her 5 minute spot on TV.

The “cure” to a national alcohol dependency, should one be required, is much deeper rooted, and requires a generation or two to fix. No knee-jerk reaction can solve it. What it requires is:

  • A sensible education on various drugs and substances introduced in primary school. Warts and all. Don’t scare kids into not trying, but do make them aware early on of the long-term effects of alcohol, nicotine, etc, and the short term effects of over-indulgence. Education prior to experience allows for the development of personal context, a greater understanding of why we feel good under the influence of these drugs, and what the cost of that good feeling actually is. Avoiding the subject is like suggesting that avoiding sex education will make teenagers less horny.
  • Investment in sports clubs, arts clubs, libraries, arts centres, and organised events. Availability of evening classes. Not only that, drop mail around all doors listing the various facilities, groups and classes available to residents. Whenever something like this is opened up, it’s always for kids — why should anybody over the age of 20 be excluded? The old mantra really does ring true, that if you give people an opportunity to better themselves in a non-condescending way, then they’ll jump in, no matter their age. With gusto, provided they don’t feel discriminated in any way. We consume alcohol to excess because it’s the only context in common British society where we’re allowed to express ourselves.
  • A reversal of this childish attitude that personally inflicted illness from legal substances wastes NHS resources. High-consumption alcohol and cigarette users have already paid their way in advance. Taxation is already high, let’s not make it any higher. Be understanding that, until relatively recently, people were taught that smoking was good for us.
  • An expectation that the reversal of generations of high alcohol consumption cannot be achieved within a few years.
  • No legislation on taxation, or on the restriction of licensed operating hours. I’m uncertain whether we need to impede alcohol advertising further, since alcohol adverts are already not allowed to emphasise alcohol in any way. Don’t artificially stop pubs from opening — let the market control itself. If there are too many pubs opening, then your local council isn’t doing enough to counteract that. Artificial restriction is not a good thing. It’s totalitarian.

The UK could overcome its alcohol dependency if it so desired. Unfortunately, the politicians don’t seem to be serious when it comes to combating the problem. Perhaps the local councils should lead the way on this one.