When has prohibition worked?

The Herald reports:

Justice Minister Judith Collins has suggested there will be further changes to rules on alcopops in liquor reforms due before Parliament.

The Reform Bill bans off-licence stores from selling ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) with more than 6 per cent content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.

Mrs Collins this morning hinted that this could be amended.

“There will be a provision on RTDs, and that provision will be a bit different from what we did in May, just to make it more workable and more flexible to make it better able to react to any initiatives by the industry that might make it counter-productive to what we’re trying to do.”

I think it is initiatives by RTD drinkers they should worry about – specifically substitution to hard spirits.

Effectively what the Government is proposing is a limited form of prohibition or banning. It is saying it will be illegal to sell RTDs (at off-licenses) of greater than 6% alcohol. This is effectively abolishing certain types of drink. When in the history of humanity has such prohibition worked?

In the Law Commission report the reforms were based on, the commission said the most common drinkers of RTDs were 14 to 24-year-olds, in particular women.

I repeat. The Law Commission did not recommend any measures against RTDs specifically. This proposal is not based on the Law Commission report, but in fact goes against what they said, which was:

Despite these concerns, there are strong arguments why it is not feasible to ban or directly target RTDs. The risks associated with drinking RTDs are of no marked difference to any other alcohol product. It is likely that banning one type of alcohol product would simply lead to the development of alternative products by the alcohol industry. Some experts consider that young people would be likely to switch products in order to obtain cheap alcohol if measures were introduced to single out RTDs by increasing their price or removing them from the market.

Some of the products to which they may switch are arguably more likely to cause harm because of the high alcohol content, such as straight spirits mixed with other beverages.

On this issue the Law Commission is absolutely correct.

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