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Friday 23 March 2012

Dan, Dan The Drink Price Man

That the Government has decided to introduce a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks has not gone down well with some of its own supporters, especially those on the libertarian wing of the Tory Party. And none is more libertarian in these matters than occasional Tory and MEP Dan, Dan The Oratory Man. Hannan is so unhappy that he has immediately gone into selective spin overdrive.

Pub? No change here

Using his bully pulpit at Maily Telegraph blogland, Dan tells that there is, in reality, nothing to worry about. “According to the Office of National Statistics, alcohol consumption is down among all age groups except, curiously enough, the over-45s. Binge drinking (defined as the consumption of eight units or more) has declined by five per cent over the past five years among the population as a whole, and by nine per cent among 16 to 24-year-olds” he tells, reassuringly.

So the Hannan remedy is, by the happiest of coincidences, to do nothing. “There is a difference between disapproving of something and legislating against it; and in that difference is found the essence of a free society” he reminds readers loftily. So it’s all about Freedom, then. How very Stateside conservatism.

Source: Portman Group

However – and there is inevitably a however when Hannan is selectively quoting figures – the statistics for alcohol related deaths do not tell such a happy picture. There was a drop in this figure in 2009, but it rose again in 2010 and had been rising inexorably from the early 90s, as the accompanying chart shows. Moreover, medical opinion warns this could well get worse.

Two of the Royal College of Physicians’ special advisors on alcohol, Ian Gilmore and Nick Sheron, have suggested thatif current trends continue ... there will be up to 210,000 alcohol related deaths in the next 20 years”. That would be an average of more than 10,000 a year. To put that figure into perspective, that for 2010 is just 8,790. So how does consumption fall and deaths rise?

The effects of that consumption take some time to work their way through – many years in most cases – and the ONS figure for consumption inevitably contains some guesswork. The amount of drink coming in from other countries, significantly from supermarkets in northern France, as well as inexpensive spirits accompanying returning holidaymakers from Spain and Greece, cannot be quantified.

Nor can the amount of beer and wine brewed at home, or indeed the black market alcohol that occasionally makes the news. And what Hannan fails to tell is that the minimum price may not add anything to the cost of a tray of special offer supermarket canned beer, with 80% of current special offers apparently unaffected. It won’t touch pub prices at all.

So Hannan’s do nothing approach will mostly happen anyway.

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