Cost price booze ban rejected

Would a cheap booze ban work? The ideas of a ban on alcohol selling below cost price has been floated by David Cameron and much of the UK medical establishment.

But new research from Newcastle University claims a cheap booze ban will have limited impact - because little alcohol is sold at such low prices, so it is claimed.

No deterrent

The study, carried out by Dr Jean Adams in Newcastle city centre, focused on price promotions. Twenty nine stores selling drink were visited; it found more than 2,000 alcohol promotions on display for customers - but only 2% were at below cost price.

"The effect of price on alcohol consumption has been documented clearly," said Dr Adams, "when the price of alcohol increases, consumption decreases; whereas when price decreases, consumption increases. Setting the minimum alcohol price at below cost price will not deter binge drinkers, as very little alcohol on sale will actually have to increase in price."

She claims her results indicate that the current government proposal to ban sales of alcohol at below 'cost' price "is likely to affect very few products and so would be unlikely to have a substantial effect on purchasing and consumption." In contrast, a minimum price of £0.50 per unit "would impact on more than one quarter of the price discounts we identified."

Minimum price support

But perhaps Dr Adams should have widened her visit to other areas of the UK where supermarkets often use drink as a loss leader. Some of it is sold on special price discounts or promotions. The booze is often located deep into the main part of the supermarket, meaning you have to travel to get to it - hopefully picking up a bunch of other stuff en route.

Still, Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East alcohol office, welcomed Adams' research, claiming it did demonstrate the need for a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

Booze continues to be sold for pocket money prices across the North East he said, "where we have the highest rate of alcohol related hospital admissions and male deaths in England. Research we published last year revealed that alcohol was available for as little as 12p a unit, meaning a man can drink at his recommended daily limit (3-4 units) for just 48p. This can't be right when we know that consumption is driven by price."

"Importantly," Shevills added, "the majority of North Easterners don't think this is right. Support for a minimum price per unit of alcohol continues to grow. More than half of North Easterners support the measure, an increase of 7% from 2010 and a third think supermarket alcohol is too cheap against just over one in ten who think it is too expensive."

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