13 Oct Big nanny is coming for your cheap drink
James Paterson — Daily Telegraph — 13 October 2017
Australia’s public health industry is once again pushing a nanny state agenda that will hurt low income Australians already struggling with cost of living pressures.
The latest initiative, proposed at the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Melbourne last week, is a minimum price on alcohol.
According to the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE), setting a minimum price on alcohol would reduce consumption among heavy drinkers, binge drinkers, and pre-loaders, who “are the most likely to consume cheap alcohol.” But as FARE’s own research shows, this will cause significant hardship for the most disadvantaged Australians.
It also risks pushing people on to alternative, more dangerous substances such as illicit drugs.
According to FARE Chief Executive Michel Thorn, “price changes lead to changes in consumption habits amongst the heaviest drinkers.” This makes economic sense. But as FARE’s 2015 report into alcohol expenditure in Australia shows, wealthy Australians spend far more on alcohol than the less well off.
No doubt this is partly due to the quality of alcohol, as wealthy Australians are more likely to buy expensive wine. But as international evidence shows, rich people also tend to drink more than poor people. Figures from the US Center for Disease Control show that the rich out drink the poor by 27.4 per cent, while the UK’s office of National Statistics has found that binge drinking is more common among people on top salaries than any other income group.
Rather than targeting the people who drink the most, a minimum price on alcohol will target those who can least afford it. Even those proposing higher prices know this.
This makes their call for higher prices pure cruelty. And while low income households with moderate alcohol use may simply be forced to forgo one of life’s small pleasures, people with serious alcohol addictions are unlikely to give up because of a minor price increase.
Increasing the price of alcohol may also push some people onto more harmful substances including illicit drugs. As Dr Cameron Duff of National Drug Research Institute said in 2014: “The thing that comes through again and again is that party drugs, particularly ecstasy, are cheaper relative to alcohol.” This is not a trend we should be encouraging.
These moves to increase the price of alcohol are also unnecessary. Despite the frequent moral panics about alcohol abuse and binge drinking, Australia’s alcohol consumption is actually decreasing, according to the government’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey.
The survey found significant falls in alcohol consumption in the past three years, with statistically significant falls in the proportion of people aged 14 and above drinking daily and weekly, and a rise in the level of people who never drink.
These changes have occurred without the aid of government imposed price increases.
Of course, alcohol can be a problem for some people. And there should be appropriate measures to help these people. But as the majority of Australians know, moderate levels of alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle. There is even some evidence that it may have some health benefits.
The public health industry should concentrate their efforts on helping the people who truly need it.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph.