Friday, 24 August 2012

The Drinking Man's Curse

Alcopops are a bit of a new thing for me, I kind of missed out on them because I was too old.  When I drank lots, if you wanted to drink something sweet it was cider, or wine cooler.  The good old days sometimes don't sound that good.

There was some discussion about minimum pricing and limits on alcohol content, and it is disappointing that the government has walked away from both these options.  It occurred to me that it's not just the change to the age at which alcohol can be purchased that has lead to much of the recent angst about young people drinking.  It's also that alcohol is much more palatable.

The companies that sell alcohol have appealed to the sweet teeth of the young, and built on the marketing success of soft drink companies like Coca Cola Amatil.  The result is a staggering array of bright and bubbly bottles filled with sugar, alcohol and the promise of good times.

It's not that I'm a saint when it comes to alcohol.  And it's not that people in their late teens and twenties have not been drinking themselves into a stupor for, well, ever.  But it's not that long ago that Paul Kelly sung:
"...like a ghost I walked the streets of Temple Bar.
And all the bright young things were throwing up their Guinness in the gutter..."
A prize (internet cookies) for anyone who can complete the couplet without following the link to youtube.  Caution for tender soles- song contains rude words.  Not suitable for work.

Note that it's Guinness.  Not some vodka premix.  The song was written in the late 1990s.  There's been a real cultural change.  And the situation is quite new, our previous alcohol culture revolved around drinks that suited a mature palate.  The generation born after about 1980 are the first one to have to deal with the combination of highly processed sweetened drinks and sophisticated marketing that supports alcopop/RTD business.

So here's my solution.  Tax based on alcohol content.  Previously there have been proposals for a sugar tax. I'll not debate the merits of that, in general, in this post.  In terms of alcohol sales, and in addition to taxing the alcohol content, tax the crap out of the sugar content.  That should reduce the appeal of RTDs, reduce their consumption and since consumption and harm are correlated, it should reduce the harm caused by alcohol.  And because beer, wine and spirits aren't sickly sweet like RTDs, they'd not be subject to the sweetness aspect of the taxation, keeping the old soaks happy.

Goblin Mix - The Birth and Death Of, 1985.

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