Archive for February, 2010

07
Feb
10

Dealing with alcohol, the Scotland experience

The NY Times carried an interesting piece here about the community problems attributed to a particular alcohol product in Scotland, ‘Buckfast Tonic Wine’ (a caffeine based product with 15% alcohol).  The figures cited in relation to its connection to harm and connection to incidents involving police intervention are staggering.  Interestingly, the supplier claims that the product accounts for less than 1% of total alcohol consumption.  

In the Northern Territory (and in particular Alice Springs) there are arguments that are parrallel to the political tensions in this area of Scotland. 

In Alice Springs the nominal left advocate alcohol restrictions (both in terms of trading hours and a bottom price per unit of alcohol), and the Scottish experience is often cited.  It is put that areas of Scotland with less of a social addiction than Alice Springs have taken stronger measures  to what Alice Springs has in restricting access through floor pricing and this has had greater impact to solving their problems.  The nominal right support widening restrictions and claim to support stronger personal interventions (for example, if there were trading hours during the day than services would have a greater chance of intervention as opposed to night, although no further details as to increasing the support of these services is provided).  This prompts two questions: if less than 1% of the population is affected by this particular product than is it because the proportion of those who drink the product belong to a particular class/group as against the overwhelming majority, and, if yes, is the case put for arguments in favour of ‘selective’ interventions based on this particular group/class (which appears to be the opposing argument in the Alice Springs body politic).

The Scotland experience at a place called Coatbridge indicates that broadening the trading hours hasn’t worked, and in this particular location a bottom price per unit wouldn’t apply because the ‘Buckfast’ product cost more than the bottom price per unit.  Whilst the Coatbridge experience and circumstances are different to Alice Springs it does indicate that price is not necessarily a driver of change if addiction is prevalent to this section of society (e.g. it’s not lack of money which is necessarily the issue, but a social acceptance). 

In Alice Springs in recent years a number of measures have been put in place to restrict a person’s ability to access alcohol and it is claimed that this has led to other problems (such as break-ins to premises with alcohol).  Such claims, of course, are difficult to prove on the basis of evidence but the political and (popular) public opinion views are certainly loud and clear.  Because of this ‘other’ bubbling problem (which perceivably are not as prevalent as the previous more lax alcohol supply rules), the political capital to move the solution to the next phase (or make improvements/modifications) appears stimied.  That is, there are less local advocates arguing restricting access to alcohol as a solution moving forward, partly because this places pressure on those addicted to alcohol who resort to other harmful meas to satisfy an addiction.  Because we have stronger restrictions than most other locations the argument is often caught in this context, rather than solely looking at our locality.  To further exacerbate our political and policy dilemma, the proposals currently put to extend trading hours in Alice Springs and drop restrictions (such as the requirement to provide photo id, a measure where there is pressure to drop because, apparently, it impacts upon the ‘right’ of non-alcoholics not to always furnish id) appear to be minimalist and, worse, counter-productive. 

The NY Times piece makes interesting reading for those interested in alcohol policy and its application to Alice Springs.

September 2010 observation – lately there have been many advocates arguing for further restrictions to supply.  This more recent observation overtakes the assumption above that these voices are more limited because of the ‘bubbling’ problem of those addicted to alcohol resorting to other negative means.  With reflection, I’m not sure if the reason for this observation is attributed to a cyclical lapse of political activism or other reasons.

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