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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Wednesday 16th May 2012

The Scottish government has announced its intended minimum alcohol price and has set the level at 50p per unit. When I wrote about Scotland’s plans for a minimum price Wednesday 2nd November I used 50p per unit to illustrate a point but for some time it was thought that the move would be to a 45p minimum.

The UK government, now considering minimum pricing as one arm of a new alcohol strategy is thought to be looking at 40p so the 50p move in Scotland is somewhat more extreme than expected.

Wisely, and as in November it grieves me to be writing about the Scottish government acting wisely, but wisely it is, the government has created a list of what a 50p minimum price will do to a variety of branded alcohol products.1

The list is useful in reinforcing the point that a rise in minimum price does not mean there has to be a rise in all alcohol pricing. So, for example, in the whisky section it points out that supermarket own brand so-called generic whisky will rise by over £4 a bottle but anything from Bell’s upwards will be unaffected.

Similarly, it is things like own brand white wine by country that will increase but even the mass produced Blossom Hill wines will not need to increase in price.

I’m a little bit intrigued by the selection of items included in the list. It obviously is a selection but there is no indication of the basis on which it has been made. For example, all the own brand products are from Tesco’s. Its ‘Value’ brand cider currently sells for £1.69 for a 2l bottle and will have to rise to £4.20. Sainsbury’s has a ‘Basics’ brand cider at £1.89 for 2l so that will also have to rise. As will ASDA’s ‘Premium’ cider at £2.33 for 2l.

As the saying goes, ‘other brands of cider are available’ and I’m a little surprised the Scottish government’s site hasn’t pointed that out.

The PR war over minimum pricing is well underway and the Scottish government has created a webpage with quotes from organisations supportive of minimum pricing.2 It carries endorsements, as might be expected, from BMA Scotland, Alcohol Focus Scotland and other health related bodies as well as contributions from the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations and bodies concerned with children and young people.

But there is one contribution that interested me. In part it says;

‘As…a long term supporter of measures to tackle the misuse of alcohol among the minority of consumers, we welcome today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the next stage of their proposals to introduce minimum alcohol pricing with the useful clarification  that this will be set at 50p / unit.’

And who is the ‘long term supporter’? None other than Tennents, the brewer, demonstrating its support by selling its ‘Super Lager’ at 43p a unit, 7p under the proposed minimum. I must repeat the cliché from above and say ‘other drinks companies are also inclined to talk the talk about reducing alcohol harms but without taking any action that might actually have some effect’.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has published an article attacking minimum pricing3 that clearly demonstrates that it is not above printing the sort of nonsense you expect in other papers.

The writer makes extensive use of assertion as fact and anecdote as evidence. Because she knows alcoholics who would do anything to get a drink she says minimum pricing will have no effect on consumption. Never mind all the proper research to the contrary.

She trots out the nonsense about minimum pricing affecting ‘responsible’ drinkers. As I’ve pointed out before a responsible drinker doesn’t consume enough alcohol to see any great effect even if all alcohol pricing moved up to stay in the same relationship to the minimum price.

Unsurprisingly, the article has been welcomed by the Portman Group. This is the body set up by the drinks industry to show its concerns about harmful drinking whilst ensuring that nothing is actually done that might reduce profits.


1.Minimum price for alcohol The Scottish Government 14th May 2012
2.Support for minimum pricing of alcohol The Scottish Government
3.Minimum alcohol pricing? Blame those vomiting girls Guardian 15th May 2012


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