Illustration for article titled Have we learned how to use taxes to keep people from getting drunk?

The British Government is about to push through a law that requires a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol to try and stop binge drinking — but one expert argues that taxing sin has done little to curb it in the past.


Top image: Ewan M. on Flickr.

Cambridge University's Dr Philip Withington is the man behind a series of publications titled Intoxication in Historical and Cultural Perspective, and he believes that taxing intoxication doesn't keep people from over-indulging. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Withington argues, intoxication was a habit more of affluence than poverty, saying "if alcohol consumption is traditionally an index of affluence, then minimum pricing will not do much to the consumption of affluent groups: rather it affects the less affluent."


That said, it's possible that alcohol comsumption is more egalitarian now than it was in the 17th century, so it's possible that taxes could be more effective. Or that we've learned more in the past few centuries about how to use sin taxes to control socially damaging behaviors.

For example, there's a much more recent counter-example, which Withington doesn't consider — recent attempts to curb smoking through price boosts and high taxes. Cigarettes are now incredibly expensive, and it's one of the factors linked to the decline of the habit. Or could that change be instead ascribed to other factors, like shifting societal views and decreased advertising?

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