Opinion Column

Minimum prices won’t stop abuse

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

B.C. has altered its recent changes on beer prices. (FOTOLIA)

B.C. has altered its recent changes on beer prices. (FOTOLIA)

“What is the point of requiring non-problem drinkers to forego their pleasure or pay more, for no good in return? And what is the good of taxing problem drinkers more, if it does not address the harm?” — Godfrey Robson, International Centre for Alcohol Policies

As the BC Liberals scramble to make its ridiculous “unhappy hour” slightly less objectionable, the big question remains unanswered – why have a minimum price on alcohol at all?

The answer annoys government that loves telling people what to do and the academics and doctors they listen to – but the reality is that minimum prices B.C. introduced last month for beer, wine and spirits don’t fix the problems they claim to solve.

They only mean that happy hour – where drinks are supposed to be cheaper – got more expensive.

John Yap, parliamentary secretary for liquor policy reform, says introducing minimum booze prices is “modernizing” liquor laws while addressing “public safety and health” concerns.

Yet on Friday, Yap lowered the minimum price on pitchers of beer, but not pints – from .25 cents an ounce to .20 cents an ounce – still Canada’s highest.

Campaign for Real Ale Society spokesperson Paddy Treavor said in an interview it doesn’t make sense: “They’ve lowered the price on the biggest serving size – I don’t see how that promotes health and safety.”

And independent bars and restaurants with beer priced lower than the big chains were forced to jack prices, removing competitive advantages.

What seemed a dumb B.C. Liberal move was actually devious.

But there is ample evidence minimum booze prices don’t work.

Raul Caetano, University of Texas epidemiology professor, says good intentions can backfire.

“There may be situations where the intent of the taxation is reversed, in that alcohol consumption increases rather than decreases because the alcohol of choice has become cheaper. Basically, they buy more and end up drinking more," Caetano said about a 2006 study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The Fraser Health Authority’s Dr. Lawrence Loh disagrees, arguing a 2013 study found injuries drop by 9% for every 10% price increase.

But the reality is that problem drinkers won’t change their destructive behaviour simply because of higher prices, but the rest of us will just pay more – unhappily.

If you agree, join my Fix BC Happy Hour on Facebook.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read more at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com. Email: weststar@telus.net. Twitter: @BillTieleman.



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