of controlling dangerous drinking have not always been effective. It’s a wonder, then, that America has not turned toward legislation implementing minimum pricing across the country. Currently 17 states and jurisdictions have adopted some form of the “Control” model. They control the sale of distilled spirits, and possibly wine and beer, at the wholesale level—similar to a minimum price—or they only allow purchase at government-owned outlets. There is a rolling sea of variabilities within these states in regards to their application of the model, but they typically sell liquor at a higher price and have a smaller selection. These states often feel pressure to privatize, and in 2012, Washington did just that. For the remainder of control states, however, they boast two negative outcomes that prevent them from making that decision: loss of state profit and increase in dangerous drinking. Evidence of the second objective does exist to some extent. States that have a retail monopoly over spirits observe an average of 14.5% fewer reported instances of alcohol consumption among high school students. Whether this is because of reduced access, less aggressive advertising, stricter enforcement by control agencies, or increased price is unknown. According to NIAAA’s 31st annual consumption report, New Hampshire consumes the most total alcohol per capita in the country. It also happens to be a control state, selling wine and liquor from state-owned operations only. Of the 10 states that drink the most alcohol in the United States, three have retail monopolies in place. Does minimum pricing within the control states lessen dangerous drinking? Current evidence makes it seem unlikely. The Scotch Whisky Association has brought a case against MUP to the Supreme Court in London. They are fighting tooth and nail to reverse the decision, arguing that the original ruling clashes with European law and that increased taxes would be a more flexible alternative. They claim that minimum pricing is the equivalent of a trade barrier and could have serious ramifications on the industry. Though the architects of the MUP bill claim that their directive is to go after cheap, high-alcohol spirits and ciders, the nature of the industry is such that taking a dig at their sales will ultimately affect the other operations owned by those entities, like many of the beloved Scotch whisky labels, not to mention all other producers. As we can see in the case of the United States, the positive outcomes of minimum pricing are dubious. If the aim is to save lives, then wouldn’t a comprehensive educational program and addiction support be more beneficial? The doubts that cloud minimum pricing are difficult to address and not likely to cease before this policy is brought up for renewal in six years. Perhaps governments should take into consideration the views of producers; surely they would have something to say regarding the laws that govern their livelihoods. While that and many other questions remain unclear, there is one thing I know for certain: our appreciation for alcohol isn’t going away anytime soon.
Devon Trevathan is a writer based out of Nashville, TN. She loves spirits that are older than she is, grower-producer style, and dogs.
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