The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has unsurprisingly called for a minimum alcohol price to help combat binge drinking and prevent alcohol related health problems.

The costs to the NHS are not restricted to direct consumption. There is also a lot of alcohol related violent and vehicle crime that puts a continual strain on the system, especially on a Saturday night.

With the annual cost to the NHS of alcohol related problems being put at over £2 billion, NICE says that raising the price will be the most effective way of dealing with them.

This it says could be done with a minimum price per unit, which has been put by some at about 50p per unit. At these costs the minimum costs for a bottle of wine containing eight units would be £4 and a bottle of spirits at about £14. The cost would then be tied to the strength of the product.

This would not only lower NHS costs it could also reduce police costs if drinking problems could be reduced.

With the emergency Budget just around the corner this will come as welcome news for a tax hungry government that may well wish to take advantage of this report.

But the government wants revenue so, just like when dealing with transport related tax will aim to extract the most without changing habits too much. The last thing the government will want is plunging revenue income due to a health drive.

There are also health dangers related to high alcohol prices as some people will fill the gap in the market for cheap hooch by brewing and illegally distilling ‘moonshine’.

There is also of course the small matter of freedom of choice.

All taxation aims at the consumption end of the market. Why not a graduated tax based on the amount produced as a ratio of personnel directly employed? Payable by the producer. The higher the ratio of production to personnel the higher the tax would be. That way it would be expensive to over produce and dump on the market and may start a drive towards quality. Supply and demand would keep the price high and legitimate availability would be automatically limited.

But I forget the EU part to the equation to any large rise in alcohol tax. The boom in ‘booze-cruises’, trips to the continent and pure smuggling would be huge. Then of course there’s our human rights ………….

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