Proposals to combat underage and binge drinking are being put forward by the SNP this week, which includes raising the age that someone can buy alcohol from a shop to 21, yet they can go to a pub and get drunk at 18. I wrote this open email and sent it to every MSP. Any replies I receive will also be published.
To all Members of the Scottish Parliament Sent Monday 16th June
From a very young age I have seen first hand the problems that alcohol can have on individuals and their families, and despite of this, I have worked in the alcohol retail trade for seven years, for two companies. I agree that there are many problems with alcohol misuse in Scotland, which must be dealt with, I do not believe that raising the drinking age will solve these at all, and may make things worse.
There are two main alcohol related problems in Scotland, underage drinking and binge drinking. I will address each of these in turn.
A policy should be introduced where anyone, regardless of age, is compelled to show either a driving license or passport to be able to buy alcohol. This would dramatically reduce the number of underage people being able to buy alcohol. Irresponsible retailers would be the ones that are punished, and would easily be caught, rather than a responsible retailer where one underage sale may 'slip through' the net. I grant you, it might appear ridiculous for a pensioner to have to produce ID to buy a bottle of gin, but everyone will soon get used to having to do it, much in the same way as people got used to having to fasten their seatbelt in the early eighties.
The culture of drinking in the UK is one of excess, and no matter what the legal age to buy alcohol is, there will always be binge drinking. Binge drinking is just as much of a problem with people in their late twenties as it is with people in their late teens. By not raising the drinking age to the on trade, you will still see people going into pubs and getting hideously drunk. The notion that is being bandied around that young people are going into a supermarket and buying massive amounts of discounted alcohol every night is laughable, but even if it was true, the raising of the drinking age for off sales will simply put those wanting to get drunk into bars rather than in their own homes. This will mean that there will be even more drunk youths on the street last thing at night, causing trouble and breaking the law.
Proposed plans to prevent the off trade from promoting alcohol will achieve nothing either as retailers will simply lower the single unit price. Instead of selling a can of beer for one pound and a case of 24 for £12, the single unit price of that beer will become fifty pence, with no discount for buying bulk. I sell a lot of wine on a 2 for £10 deal, where a customer can save between 99p and £2 per bottle, I will simply lower the price to £5. Add into the fact that the popular drinks consumed by people in their late teens and early twenties are the likes of Buckfast, Lambrini and alcopops, which rarely, if ever, are price promoted, proves that this proposal would not change excessive consumption in the young.
Any attempts to price young people out of being able to buy alcohol by taxation is only punishing responsible drinkers for the minority's indiscretions. Instead of taxing or raising duty, introduce minimum prices that retailers have to charge. For example, no bottle of spirits can cost less than £12, wine no less than £5 and beer no less than £1 per bottle or can. Doing this will not alienate people who care about what they drink as they will generally be spending more than these limits anyway, but will prevent supermarkets from offering beer at 20 pence per can. I grant you, the retailer or the producer may initially benefit from minimum pricing, but it will almost force companies making cheap alcohol to increase quality as they will realise that if they are producing an inferior product, but have to charge the same as a superior one, people will stop drinking their products and choose alternative brands. Therefore, more money will be spent on producing good products, for responsible drinkers to enjoy. Also, with vat being a percentage of the price, more tax could be raised to spend on public services.
There are two solutions to prevent binge drinking, particularly for the young. The first is to limit what they can buy. If an adult is between 18 and 21, they should be restricted in the off trade to a bottle of spirits, two bottles of wine or twelve cans of beer. In the on trade, they should be limits as well based on consumption per hour, but this would be difficult to police, therefore I propose that there should be tougher laws on bar staff selling to visibly drunk people in a bar.
The second solution is one of education. Teaching children in schools with graphic images of what alcohol abuse can do to you will stay with that child. I remember seeing a person getting knocked down and killed on a television show when I was five years old, and that has always stuck in my head and I look both ways every time I cross the street. Show video footage of an alcoholic dying or an autopsy on a person who has died. It might be graphic, it might be uncomfortable and unpopular, but it would work.
A person at 18 can get married, have children, fight and die for their country, pay taxes and buy a gun, yet with these proposals, they cannot buy a bottle of wine to have with their dinner at home, but they can go to a pub and get drunk. I agree that things need done to prevent misuse of alcohol, but the proposals put forward are akin to stopping speeding by removing the tyres from a car. It might make it a bit more difficult for the minority you are targeting, but will simply annoy the majority that adhere to the law and use common sense.
I appeal for sanity to prevail in the Scottish Parliament.
Official Scottish Parliament petition against the raising of the drinking age
CARDAS - Campaign against raising the drinking age in Scotland
BBC 'Have your say' on this subject
The Wine Conversation article on this subject
John Park MSP, Labour, Mid Scotland & Fife 16th June
Thanks for your very thoughtful comments Peter. I will pass them onto the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and ask that he responds to them one by one.
I'll be back in touch soon
Derek Brownlee MSP, Scottish Conservative & Unionist, South Scotland 16th June
Thanks for your email. I think this debate will run for a while and it is helpful to have your comments.
Karen Gillon MSP, Labour, Clydesdale 16th June
Thank you for your email, the contents of which have been noted. (Sounds like an automated reply to me)
Mike Pringle MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Edinburgh South 18th June
I am sure you own MSP Ian smith will respond more fully, but the Lib/Dems are against this proposal.
Maureen Watt MSP, Scottish National Party, North East Scotland 19th June
Thank you for your views regarding binge drinking. I also feel that binge drinking is a blight on our society. I take your views into consideration and I welcome the consultation which is currently taking place.
Maureen Watt MSP
Stewart Stevenson MSP, Scottish National Party, Banff & Buchan 20th June
I have received a postcard from him which states "Stewart Stevenson MSP ackowledges with thanks the receipt of your communication of 15.6.08, the contents of which have been noted."
Shona Robison MSP, Scottish National Party, Dundee East 20th June
I have received a letter from her which says "Dear Mr peter Wood. I am writing to acknowledge your recent letter sent to Shona Robison regarding raising the drinking age to 21. A reply will be set to you as soon as possible. Yours Sincerely Kimberly Meikle"
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