Monday, March 02, 2009

There is a reason pubs serve alcohol...

I have been considering a post about this subject for some time, and have been prompted to write it today as Scotland have now announced plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol to outlaw 2-4-1 drinks promotions.

Over the last year or so I have seen politicians, scientists and doctors voicing various opinions about the extent of alcohol related crime and health problems. The majority of comments have singled out supermarkets and pubs that sell alcohol on promotion. Recently a club in Newport was criticised for selling unlimited drinks to customers - even though the event was run responsibly and there was no trouble on the night.

I have attended events similar to this in Manchester before. The detail is that you are given a wristband and a ticket when you go in. Swap the ticket for your first drink. Once empty return to the bar to swap it for a full one. Each time your wristband is ticked. The barmen know how much you have drunk from your band, and are able to refuse to replace your empty once you are too drunk or if you are consuming too many.

To start, it is my opinion that pricing of drink has no bearing on the amount of consumption. To refer to the principle of elasticity of demand, people will always want nights out with friends socialising and drinking. They will do this regardless the cost. Most people who drink would just pay the extra if the price went up. Note the treasury presently levy a high tax on alcohol - whenever they raise this tax, customers continue to buy the same quantity of alcohol and just stump up the extra few pounds. Historically raising the price of alcohol via taxation to reduce drinking has had minimal effect.

If on the other hand, someone is struggling financially, they may look to cut the amount they spend on alcohol. I deliberately worded that sentence to say that they do not cut the amount of alcohol they consume! When times are stressful an evening drunk becomes more important to someone. Occasionally being drunk has many positive benefits - such as helping you escape your worries, relax, socialise and enjoy yourself!

Remember the old christmas booze cruise to France? This is no longer necessary because supermarkets have cut their prices. Were laws brought in to raise the price it would only inconvenience people as they would just buy it from somewhere cheaper. I have had some reports that beer should be priced around £10 a pint. This would definitely effect demand!

So, similar to my last post, lets look at the bigger picture. The real question is do we want:

  1. everyone to have fun a few times a month out with friends in the pub? or
  2. people to be stressed financially from going out once a month, and importing large amounts of alcohol and staying at home drinking? or
  3. Let's even assume the politicians are successful and no-one ever drinks anymore?

Could you imagine how much fun a pub would be if everyone was sober? We have all been the sober one in a group of friends who are drinking! People would spend less time in face to face contact with friends and communicate using other means such as the internet or telephone.

Taking this question one step further .... do we want a nation of hermits with no social skills? I refer you to recent statements that lack of face to face social contact with other humans is bad for someone's health, and impedes proper development. See Online networking 'harms health' and 'Mental risk' of Facebook teens .

My argument is that there is a very good reason why pubs serve alcohol! Pubs were invented as a place people could go to socialise. The benefit of alcohol is that it is a social lubricant. Once people are drunk they have reduced inhibitions and are less worried about approaching new people, or saying something that may make them look stupid. Without alcohol in everyone's life people would most likely have less casual friends, and share less experiences with other humans. I argue that a world without alcohol would be a worse place to be!

On the subject of anti social behaviour there are always going to be some idiots who cause issues (when they are drunk or sober) - lets deal with this minority and not let them spoil things for the properly behaved majority. People do need to be allowed to take responsibility for their alcohol consumption and behaviour, such as was allowed when later bar licensing was introduced.

Finally I think Tony Blair has done a lot to prepare pubs for the future. Introducing flexible later licensing and making pubs a smoke free environment were bold policies and I personally enjoy the benefits of both. Things are changing rapidly in the industry anyway. Due to the global recession, like everyone these businesses are facing a hard time. For the consumer price competition is good. Don't go stopping this at such a difficult time.

I will be off out for a drink because these proposals are not for England where I live !!


Update: Will be quicker getting that celebratory drink next time.  Not had it yet and now another headline Governments top medical advisor has drawn up some daft plans -Cries-

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