We’re drinking too much. Not just me personally, although I’m certainly doing my bit to keep the next generation of hepatologists in work, but all of us: we’re becoming a nation of puking, brawling bingers doomed to cirrhosis and/or heavy machinery operation accidents. It’s a grim enough prospect to drive you to drink. Something Must Be Done.
Some TV coverage of the Chief Medical Officer’s call to increase alcohol duty featured a few vox pops with ‘people in the street’, who may or may not have arrived in said street by means of being thrown out of a pub. One of them said: “They can put the price up but it won’t do anything, people will still want to drink. Are you looking at my bird?” or some such.
And he had a point. Not about looking at his bird, who wasn’t featured on screen, and anyway he didn’t actually say that bit, but about trying to price booze out of people’s shaking yet jealous hands.
Drinking in hefty quantities is highly esteemed by many people, and it would require really huge tax rises to have much of an effect; it’d be easier to deter the people who can take it or leave it, but they’re not really the problem.
So what about this: don’t try to make heavier drinkers cut back on how many they have, but use the duty system to encourage a shift towards weaker drinks.
HM Revenue and Customs gives duty rates for beer as £13.71 per hectolitre per cent of alcohol in the beer – i.e. one flat rate, with the amount payable increasing in line with the strength of the beer.
What about introducing a number of bands, where the rate payable increases with strength? Anything below 4% abv could sell at the existing £13.71; 4-4.5% at a higher rate, and so on. This would annoy the fans of stronger stuff (and the brewers of stronger stuff), but the behavioural change involved in switching one’s usual to a different brew is far smaller than that involved in significantly cutting down, and so more amenable to fiscal manipulation.
(There already seem to be a number of wine bands: 1.2-4%, 4-5.5%, 5.5-15% and 15-22% abv. The principle’s there, but surely the main action should be going on around the 9-13% range?)