Booze hounds across the pond, be forewarned! After nearly a year of planning, British Prime Minister David Cameron finally unveiled a law that will prohibit the sale of cheap alcohol. After much debate, Cameron’s cabinet decided to set a price floor of 45 pence per alcohol unit. While most mid- and high-end brands already meet the new standards, bargain supermarket-brand drinks will face significant price increases. The alcohol-by-volume percentage and the total volume determine the number of alcohol units in any given beverage. For example, an average pint glass of beer contains 2 units of alcohol, so it would be illegal to sell it for less than 90 pence.
The law is part of a greater effort to curb binge drinking in Great Britain, where alcohol-related health problems cost the National Health Service 2.7 billion pounds (aka 4.3 billion dollars) a year. Cameron has dubbed Britain’s love of liquor a “scandal,” and he hopes eliminating booze that’s cheaper than water will help reduce alcohol abuse around the country.
Why It Matters
Cameron’s measures seem positively draconian to some, but the United Kingdom could have a legit drinking problem. Alcohol consumption in Europe is shrinking in general, but binge alcohol consumption is still prevalent in Britain. Notably, people tend to drink heavily at home rather than in pubs, where beer, wine, and liquor are much pricier. Last year, Cameron’s administration reported 1 million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2 million alcohol-induced hospital admissions. It’s a significant number, given the UK’s total population of 63 million lads and lassies. Between destructive violence and health issues, Britain’s tendency to overindulge at the pub is proving both dangerous and expensive.
Can We Trust It?
Critics have already begun protesting that Cameron’s plan will not reduce binge drinking and will harm the economy. The main argument is that raising prices on alcohol will discourage logical moderate drinkers, but the ban won’t affect people who hit the bars for psychological or social reasons. Members of trade organizations, like the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, have already condemned the law as unfair and ineffective. Economists at the Adam Smith Institute, a London-based think tank, claim the cheap alcohol ban will create a black market and contribute to nationwide poverty as less well-to-do drinkers shell out for their daily fix.
So, will Cameron’s unpopular crusade actually do some good, or just cause anarchy in the UK? It's doubtful a tax or ban can end Britain’s drinking problem once and for all, but it might be a drop in the bucket. Making alcohol less accessible will certainly reduce the amount of overall intoxication happening any given day. As we saw with Four Loko a few years ago, a full-on ban can’t fix the overall problem, but it certainly can de-incentivize certain habits. Binge drinking is a social dilemma in the United Kingdom as well as the United States, and the government must focus on health education and changing cultural norms to fix it.
Do you think David Cameron's ban on cheap alcohol will help reduce binge drinking? Should the U.S. adopt a similar law? Join the discussion in the comments below or tweet the author at @SophBreene.