While the government is still patting itself on the back for the tobacco display ban, the attention of health professionals is predictably turning to alcohol.
A chorus of voices is now advocating a minimum price per unit as the means to tackle alcohol abuse. Minimum pricing of 50p per unit would see standard lager retailing at £1 a can, a bottle of vodka starting at £13.50, and a bottle of wine (12% abv) at £4.50.
The UK government has so far resisted these calls, but in Scotland the SNP minority government seems determined to push them through, and is expected to announce a minimum price level next month.
Just as with the tobacco display ban, so-called experts are yet again determined to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, while missing the nut altogether.
Scotland has, proportionally, more illness and absenteeism due to alcohol than the UK as a whole, but not more outlets where cheap drink is available. And that indicates what we all know, that social factors are a more influential cause of problem drinking than prices.
Yes, price and consumption are linked for most products, most of the time, but only if consumers are making rational decisions. But problem drinkers, by definition, are not rational.
Faced with a rising cost of alcohol, it’s likely that problem drinkers will instead cut back on food, or domestic heating, or other purchases that are important for good health. So increasing the price could actually kill more people than it cures.
The other route problem drinkers could take, of course, is to attempt to steal their fix of alcohol, which will put yet another social problem on retailers’ doorsteps.