James Lowman: ACS in action

All posts from: August 2014

Monitoring alcohol policy

Posted by: James Lowman Fri, 29 Aug 2014

Over the past couple of weeks, a number of reports have surfaced on the need to reduce the amount of alcohol we are consuming as a population. Recommendations to tackle the problem range from health warnings on alcohol labels, the wider use of council policies to restrict the number of new alcohol licences in an area, to a ‘treatment tax’ on all alcohol sales (except in pubs).

What these reports fail to acknowledge is that, overall, alcohol consumption is falling (especially among young people) and there is a decline in binge drinking. There are a number of reasons for this, but they are primarily down to behaviour change supported by industry initiatives such as Community Alcohol Partnerships and city centre management schemes, not cumbersome government policy interventions.

One particularly concerning recommendation from the manifesto document published by the All Party Group on Alcohol Misuse focuses on restricting the number of alcohol licences.

Of course, we support the removal of licences from irresponsible operators, but there is no credible evidence to show that more off licences in an area will lead to more alcohol harm and we will continue to resist pressure for this policy to be more widely adopted.

However, as a community retailer you need to prepare for this type of policy by meeting the highest standards in responsible retailing, and engaging with the local agencies (council, police, trading standards) that influence alcohol licensing decisions. Make sure they understand that your business is not one they should target.

Understanding the impact

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 4 Aug 2014

It’s no surprise that the debate on plain tobacco packaging has been characterised by impassioned claim and counter claim from those who want to see this measure introduced, and those who oppose it.

It’s sometimes difficult to separate the facts from the rhetoric, and that’s why last week’s report by the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) – an independent body within government that scrutinises new regulatory proposals – was particularly welcome.

All sides of the debate can now look at this objective analysis, and it shows that up until now the Department of Health (DOH) has not fully understood the impact of plain packaging on businesses. The RPC report focuses on the need to assess the impact on small businesses, the costs and operational issues around transition to plain packaging, and, crucially, assumptions made about how plain packaging would affect transaction times in store.

To you and I it sounds pretty bizarre that the DOH believes that plain packaging would lead to a reduction in service times. To anyone who knows retail, it seems obvious that if products all look the same, it will take longer for staff to find them. The RPC’s report must lead to the DOH taking a much closer look at evidence from Australian retailers, and from the Rural Shops Alliance’s UK study which shows the operational burdens for retailers arising from plain packaging.

Of course the other side of this debate is about its impact on public health. I’m yet to see anything that convinces me that young people – who are deserting smoking in their droves because of education – would be influenced by plain packaging.

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