Tag Archive - legislation

Binge drinking and tax

I want to comment on the latest moves to increase the tax on alcohol in the UK ostensibly to address the issues of “problem” drinking.

Unfortunately I don’t even know where to start and I am rushed.

I’ve commented before that governments seem to be unable to think straight when it comes to alcohol. They need to be seen to do something because the media (in particular) loves to act all puritanical when it comes to bashing politicians (whilst simultaneously celebrating the outrageous lifestyles of certain ‘celebrities’).

This means that politicians can use very simplistic solutions that both please the media hacks and generate revenue for the Treasury whilst claiming to be acting in the public good. Unfortunately it is usually rubbish.

Raising duty on alcohol even further will not do anything to stop underage drinking, or weekend binge drinking, or even to reduce alcoholism. All it does is tax the vast majority who do drink sensibly. Not only that, but it perpetuates the drive towards low-cost, mass produced drinks brands that can afford to counter the price increases and build market share. These drinks do not have the kind of history or role in our society that encourages responsible enjoyment of the alcohol. Their goal is bigger volume so as to generate the necessary economies of scale to justify their investments.

The effect is to kill off any independent producers’ & retailers’ markets, and with them the chance of a mature drinking culture.

PLEASE lets have a sensible discussion about WHY we drink too excess in the UK, and other parts of the world (because we do) before we kill off the most sensible way out of this situation.

Alcohol Monopoly

I have been visiting Nova Scotia in Canada for a number of years (it is absolutely beautiful by the way) and usually I am critical of the concept of the Canadian state (well, the Provincial governments) having a monopoly on the sale of alcohol. You can check out the range here.

For those of us living in the UK or most of Europe, the idea that the state should control what wines or spirits should be available, where, and for how much is extraordinary (if you live or visit Sweden this is probably not such a shock for you).

[Some might argue of course that this is exactly where we are heading in the UK because of the retail strength of the supermarkets like Tesco - but even here we at least have a number of alternative ranges to choose from]

My reaction is usually – “How could one organisation tell us what wines we can drink?”, especially when the result, at least in Canada, is a pretty limited range of branded wines?

The reason for this structure is most likely still a hang-over (!) from Prohibition (yes, they had it here too), and there is a sort of puritanical streak to the management of this ‘vice’ which I personally disagree with. It also means that there is a form of “lowest common denominator” effect at work which determines that all wine have to be available in minimum quantities to supply all stores, have to be consistent and also be able to comply with the kinds of red-tape only government departments are able to create. This often results in a pretty bland range.

However, there is one small silver lining to this was pointed out to me which I had not considered. In the UK we have such a high density of population that we can pretty well guarantee access to supermarkets or shops wherever we are, with a few exceptions of course. This means that the market can operate quite freely and there will be someone who can sell you what you are looking for within a reasonable distance.

When you take a country like Canada, this is definitely not the case outside of most large cities. So much of the infrastructure here depends on government support to reach tiny communities in distant areas, that if the government did not step in, certain items (especially luxury items such as wine) would either be impossible to get, or prohibitively expensive.

OK, so wine is probably not the main justification for this type of system, and I’m sure they make a pretty penny or two in tax from selling and taxing all that alcohol, but at least they can get it. Hopefully in time, and with a little popular pressure, the range will improve further.

I’m sure the local “liquor commission” would tell you that a monopoly also means that there are clear & limited channels for reaching consumers, giving the opportunity for ‘managing’ consumer alcohol consumption. I still think that in the longer term education works better than restricting access. However, thinking positively, it does mean there are obvious places to start reaching consumers with information on wine to educate and inform them and improve their experience.

Still, I’ll take Tesco’s range over the NSLC one any day!

Not Whiter than White

Interesting developments in varietal labelling and branding in recent days. (I have read about it in Harpers but for some reason it has not been posted to their site)

It appears that the EU authorities are finally catching up with the issue of the labelling of rose, or blush, wines labelled as “White X” – White Zinfandel, White Grenache, etc.

Once again this raises the question of clarity on labelling. From an EU perspective where NOTHING is allowed on the label unless it has been specifically approved, there is no such variety as “White Zinfandel” (interestingly enough there are mutations of otherwise black grapes called White Merlot and White Tempranillo) so it cannot be used on the label.

But in reality this is a classic example of where a phrase on a label has become a brand rather than a technical content description. Whatever you think of whether these should be sold as wine or alcopops, getting rid of the term “White Zinfandel” will only cause confusion for those for whom this is their only knowledge of wine.

White Zinfandel is a recognised brand/category of wine and useful beyond the description of the main variety of grape used to make it. It is all about simple, medium sweet, fruity, probably reasonably alcoholic, rosé wine.

What will the result be? Will consumers ignore the change and buy the same wine whatever it is called? Probably, but not all of them.

Will some move on to try and discover other wines (as some in the EU probably secretly hope)? I very much doubt it.

Will it simply confirm to many that wine labelling is too complicated and confusing and turn them off wine again? That is my worry.

Whilst I have every respect for those who need to enforce a level playing field and basic health and safety, I think this move is simply ridiculous and wrong.

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