Is setting a minimum price on alcohol a good idea?

Most people already seem to think that alcohol is pretty expensive…but is this really such a bad thing? There is an increasing number of young people binge drinking in the United Kingdom, and it shows no signs of slowing down…but could raising the prices of alcohol be the answer? It may not solve everything, but studies show that it most certainly would help.

In fact, the government HAS proposed to set a minimum price for alcohol: 45p per unit. Research has shown that even this could lead to up to 2,000 fewer deaths per year!

In some stores, cans of lager have been previously sold for as little as 20p per can, and 2-for-1 deals on 2L bottles of cider and wine are not uncommon. As such deals often attract teenagers with little money, raising the prices is very likely to have a large impact, decreasing the amount of alcohol they are able to buy with their limited budget, thus reducing binge-drinking and therefore lowering the death toll.

But the big question is: how high do we raise the prices? Research has shown that raising alcohol by as much as 40p per unit could potentially decrease the alcohol death rate by as much as 10%, and increasing the price by as much as 70p per unit could decrease the alcohol death rate by up to 60%…so how much do we increase the price before it goes too far?

Similarly, how can we be sure that increasing the price of alcohol will have any effect at all? Surely people will still find a way to get their hands on alcohol, even if it means it is acquired illegally. There is no doubt that crime levels would soar as more people turned to shoplifting as a way to get the alcohol they couldn’t afford.

So…what do YOU think?

The problem of underage drinking

It’s no secret that underage drinking is a growing issue in the UK – in fact, up to 5,000 people die each year as a result of underage drinking. The main issue with alcohol is that many teenagers do not seem to understand their limits – when they drink, they drink intensively. In fact, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug by adolescents! Yet the most dangerous and frightening thing of all is that many teenagers don’t even understand that alcohol is, in fact, a drug – and a very dangerous one at that.

It is not necessarily the alcohol itself that is such an issue – like many other things, it is fine in moderation. It is the amount of alcohol consumed over such a short period of time that is such a problem and causes harm. As their bodies are still growing, teenagers who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol run the risk of actually stunting their growth. Not only this, but drinking at a young age has also been shown to negatively affect the brain and liver, causing problems in later life. Studies have also shown that drinking large amounts of alcohol at a younger age dramatically increases the risk of alcohol dependence in later life.

It’s very simple to argue that you know your own limits and won’t lose control, but the temptations are often too much to resist …but exactly how much is too much? When is it time to stop? Drinks such as ‘alcopops’ and ‘alcohol energy drinks’ were perhaps designed specifically to a teenage audience, and as they have a lower alcohol content than most drinks, this gives teens the excuse to drink even more – in fact, many people who are given such drinks often don’t even know they contain alcohol! However, even one can of some of these alcoholic beverages has about as much caffeine in it as a large cup of coffee, as well as a variety of other additives and stimulants designed to give the consumer a false sense of alertness. These can often mask the effects of the alcohol, making its effects much less noticable, causing the consumer to drink even more. As these drinks are often marketed to teens who often do not have as much experience with alcohol and are eager to experiment, this makes such drinks extremely dangerous.

By the age of 15, 50% of teens claim to have had at least one alcoholic drink before. By the age of 18, this figure rises to 70%. However, as teens under the age of 18 cannot legally buy alcohol themselves, this is very often made possible by adults, and whilst teens often drink much less than adults, when they do drink, they tend to drink much, much more. As a consequence, the alcohol does not only affect teenagers socially (dramatically increasing the risks of violence, vandalism, unprotected sex and injuries), but also physically, on a much higher level than it would affect a grown adult. For example, you may not quite realise how important your hippocampus is until it has been permanently affected by your binge-drinking as a teenager, and you can no longer remember your friend’s phone number. Similarly, you probably won’t notice the importance of your medulla until you’ve drank yourself silly and you’re lying in bed with hypothermia.

So what can be done to tackle underage drinking? Do we raise the legal drinking age to 21, or would that cause even more rebellion? Do we prevent adverts and packaging aimed at younger audience, or would that just make the temptation even stronger? Whatever we do, we have to do it fast. Underage drinking is a growing problem in the UK, and it certainly doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon!

Government seek good practice approach to underage drinking

Every local authority is being sent a good practice guide to help them tackle underage drinking.

Policies involving police,trading standards, youth and childrens services have been developed.

Additional funding is also being targeted at youth crime action plan areas to fund police enforcement and detection, with many police forces and councils now being funded for the purchase of instant alcohol detection tests, simple dip tests which can be used to detect alcohol disguised in other liquids on the streets. Alcohol dip tests with IVDD saliva capability can also then test a saliva sample to indicate the actual blood alcohol concentration.