– Industry revolts as federal health agency proposes ban on discount booze (The Australian, Oct 13, 2012):
CHEAP wine will be banned under a federal health agency’s plan to make drinkers pay at least $8-$10 for a bottle of booze.
The Federal Government’s Australian National Preventative Health Agency will advise this week that a “floor price” and new taxes be calculated as a way to make alcohol dearer.
The prohibition plan to stop cheap drunks binging on discount drinks – including cask wine and cleanskins – has delighted health groups but sparked an alcohol industry revolt.
Consumers who drink cheap wine are not all drunks, industry groups have told the agency, and not everyone can afford an expensive tipple.
But the agency found pricing is “recognised as one of the most effective measures to reducing alcohol-related harm”.It has found “strong community support” to change the existing alcohol tax system, so that wine would be taxed on the basis of its alcohol content rather than its price.
“These changes would have the effect of establishing a floor price for alcohol,” the agency’s report, to be published within days, states.
It now wants the Federal Government to commission economic modelling to assess the impact of a minimum price or higher taxes on consumers and industry.
It says the average Australian drinks 10 litres of pure alcohol each year – equal to about 70 litres of wine or 250 litres of beer – while one in five adults and teenagers drink at levels that cause long-term harm to their health.
The Wine Federation calculates the price of cask wine would treble to $47.40, and the cheapest wine would cost $8.40 for a bottle of white or $9.60 for a red.
And, it warns, that pensioners and low-income families will pay the price of any prohibition on cheap drinks.
“They could lose one of their affordable luxuries in life,” Wine Federation chief executive Paul Evans said.
“For the pensioner who might buy a cask of wine with their cheque every fortnight to share with their bingo buddies, this will make it completely unaffordable for them.”
The Australian Medical Association is pushing the plan to stop young Australians getting drunk on discounted grog.
“You can get a four-litre cask of wine for as little as $10 and that encourages people to drink more because it’s so cheap,” AMA vice-president Geoffrey Dobb said.
The Australian Hotels Association has told the health agency’s inquiry that pensioners are the biggest drinkers of cask wine and would be “hardest hit” by minimum pricing.
“All consumers will bear financial pain and reduced living standards,” it told the inquiry.
Woolworths – Australia’s biggest retailer of alcohol – told the agency that a minimum price would “significantly disadvantage the vast majority of Australians who consume alcohol in a moderate and responsible manner”.
The agency will seek more public feedback on the proposal this week before making final recommendations to federal Mental Health Minister Mark Butler in December.