The campaign against teenage binge drinking has taken another step forward with the announcement over the weekend of the increase in tax on premixed drinks. Health experts and social policy advocates alike have welcomed the move enthusiastically with claims that it will reduces alcohol abuse. I’m not so sure of that.
It is reasonable to expect that the increased price will reduce consumption, but that is not the same thing as reducing abuse. The fact is that hard core alcohol abusers, the ones who deliberately get smashed and often become aggressive or violent, will continue to binge. They will find a way to pay the increased prices, or simply switch to a different drink. It has even been suggested that some might be more likely to steal in order to come up with the money.
Having said that, the tax increase still remains a valid measure to discourage excessive drinking, especially as it simply brings the tax treatment of this class of product into line with other forms of alcohol. It is a reasonable step to take when combined with other measures to make up a complete strategy to target alcohol abuse, not just in teenagers, but throughout the community.
The other important measures that must be addressed include trading hours, competition policy, education and support services, and social policy that promotes positive attitudes and activities.
On its own, increasing the tax is not the answer. In fact, unless it is matched by a serious effort to address those other issues, it is little more than a revenue raiser.