Friday, 15 January 2010

The Cost Of Alcohol

Just spotted this from Paul Waugh asking; 'Is Labour edging towards a min. price for alcohol?'

Citing an article in the Daily Binge Drinker
which itself is recycling old news from early last year (yawn), Waugh goes into detailed analysis of Labour's position on alcohol pricing and whether they are seriously considering the option.

Waugh quotes Andy Burnham the Health Secretary:

"We need to balance the rights of people who drink responsibly with those who buy ludicrously cheap booze and go out and harm themselves and others. The mood has changed and there is rising public concern - we need to respond to that and move on the debate."

He then notes that:
Sources close to Andy Burnham rejected the Telegraph's take today, stating that he had not pushed the policy to Cabinet. But, intriguingly, Whitehall sources also said that the public would need to be taken on a "journey" of education about alcohol before the idea could be implemented. It could take 10, 15 years and would need cross-party consensus.

Leaving aside the rather patronising line about being taken on a "journey" of education, this is essentially all hot air and nonsense from Labour. There won't be minimum pricing for alcohol quite simply because it would fall foul of EU laws.

The EU permits governments (how jolly nice of them) to raise taxes in order to protect public health, but rules out minimum pricing if it negates cheap imported goods having a possible competitive edge. It would be in breach of the (EC) Treaty.

The issue of minimum pricing has already cropped up amongst EU member states when Greece and Ireland attempted the same policy with cigarettes. The EU made its position clear:
In this respect, the European Court of Justice has already stated that:
  • imposing a minimum price is incompatible with the current legal framework (Directive 95/59/EC), since the setting of a minimum price by public authorities inevitably has the effect of limiting the freedom of producers and importers to determine their selling price (see also case C-302/00, Commission/France)
  • minimum prices are not necessary, since the health objectives may be attained by increased taxation of tobacco products. (Case C-216/98, Commission/Greece).

The Commission fully supports Member States in designing measures on tobacco control in order to ensure a high level of public health protection. Among the measures that could be used, the European Commission advocates minimum taxes to tackle cigarettes’ consumption. This would have the same impact on the prices and would not hamper price competition to the sole benefit of manufacturers.

But no fear, this inconvenient detail won't stop politicians and the media pontificating about minimum pricing, despite that the UK has no power to actually implement it.

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