The British Medical Association (2005) defines binge drinking as heavy drinking over an evening or similar time span – sometimes also referred to as heavy episodic drinking. Binge drinking is often associated with drinking with the intention of becoming intoxicated and, sometimes, with drinking in large groups. Binge drinking is a large problem in the UK. According to BBC News (2003), binge drinking is costing the NHS around £1.7 billion a year. In addition, 17 million working days are lost each year due to hangovers and the government is spending billions clearing up crime and damage caused by anti-social behaviour due to drinking (BBC News, 2003). The UK government is considering increasing alcohol prices via taxation in order to discourage binge drinking. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt commented that “Tax on alcohol should rise to reduce binge drinking among teenagers” (BBC News, 2006). This report aims to determine the social and business implications of alcohol taxation. 2. Current levels of alcohol consumption within the UK, compared to 10 other countries This section of the report compares the alcohol consumption levels of the following countries: Australia, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States. According to OECD (2005a) (see appendix 1), alcohol consumption in the UK is relatively high. In 2003, a UK citizen aged over 15, had an annual consumption of 11.2 litres of pure alcohol. This is a 1.8 litre increase since 1980. Compared to other countries, the UK has the third highest alcohol consumption level, along with Spain. France has the highest alcohol consumption level of over 14.8 litres per person. Although this is decrease of 5.8 litres per person since 1980, the country still has the highest alcohol consumption rate from the countries selected (OECD, 2005a). Ireland has the second highest consumption rate. Its consumption levels have increased from 9.6 litres in 1980 to 13.5 litres in 2003 (OECD, 2005a). Although the UK has a lower level of consumption to these countries, Britons binge drink which means they “tend to consume larger quantities per occasion” (Euromonitor, 2004) which could be the reason for anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related crimes. The countries with lower consumption rates than those of the UK are Austria, Germany, Australia, Finland, United States, Sweden and Turkey. Turkey has the lowest consumption rate of only 1.5 litres per person per year. Sweden is the second lowest with a rate of 7 litres per person. The USA has a consumption rate of 8.3 litres per person (OECD, 2005a). 3. Arguments for and against alcohol taxation
Alcohol taxation will have both social and business implications. An argument for alcohol taxation is that there is evidence it will reduce the number of alcohol related deaths each year. According to BBC News (2007), doctors are aware that measures need to be taken to reduce rising alcohol related problems. In recent years, deaths and hospital admissions due to alcohol have doubled. Therefore, the BMA suggests an increase in alcohol taxation and a stricter alcohol driving limit (BBC News, 2007). “A study by the Academy of Medical Sciences concluded that a 10% hike in the price of alcoholic beverages could reduce alcohol-related mortality figures by up to 37%” (Alcohol Concern, 2007). In addition, alcohol taxation could also be used to help those that are victims of alcohol. Dave Newman (BBC News, 2004), director of Guernsey’s Alcohol and Drug abuse council, thinks the revenue generated from taxation could be used to solve the problem of drinking by providing funding for alcohol charities. Alcohol Concern (2007) states that using a portion of the alcohol taxes for alcohol treatment programs would be a way to “minimise the damage done to people’s lives through alcohol misuse” (Alcohol Concern, 2007). Moreover, in recent years, alcohol has become cheaper and more...
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