I think of myself as a libertarian. I think there are areas of life where the state has no right to interfere, and that individuals are just that, individuals, with differences, and the right to behave differently.
However, on minimum pricing I have to ditch my philosophical position, in favour of the pragmatic, for what good is a philosophy if it doesn’t reflect how we should actually live?
The evidence that minimum unit pricing for alcohol would save lives is overwhelming. There are now over 100 studies which have been analysed and re-analysed. Some of these are natural experiments, where government changes in taxation both up and down have led to an inverse increase or reduction in alcohol related harms. Others were set up as formal experiments, to see what would happen. And the results? For every 10p the price of a unit of alcohol goes up, harms reduce by 5%. The alcohol industry argues that these studies weren’t randomised controlled experiments, so don’t count as evidence. This is exactly the same argument the tobacco industry used to use about the link between smoking and lung cancer.
The libertarian in me says so what? It’s up to individuals whether they harm themselves or not. But that’s where alcohol is so different to many drugs. It causes harm not only to self, but also to others, in the form of accidental injury, increased rates of anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, family conflict, lost days at work, to say nothing of the cost in pounds sterling to the NHS, to the police force, to the courts system.
And the argument that minimum pricing will punish responsible drinkers is a nonsense, a total nonsense. Go onto any supermarket website and do the maths. It’s Tennents Super, Carlsberg Special Brew, and own brand strong ciders which have a unit price of less than 40p. These are not drinks that responsible drinkers drink, but they are the drinks of the homeless, those who live in hostels, and the alcohol dependent. In other words, the people most at risk of alcohol-related harm.
So, against all my principles, yes, I support minimum pricing. There’s no debate really.