Punishing the Majority

The problems with alcohol policy in the UK

Summary

  • Alcohol policy in Britain and many other countries aims to reduce per capita alcohol consumption in the belief that this will inevitably reduce heavy and harmful drinking. The cornerstone policies of this approach are advertising bans, licensing restrictions and higher taxes.

 

  • Campaigners cite the ‘Total Consumption Model’ as justification for implementing policies that affect all drinkers, rather than just the heavy drinking minority. The theory was devised in the 1950s based on a statistical correlation between average alcohol consumption and rates of harmful drinking.

 

  • As researchers have long recognised, this theory is deeply flawed and has little predictive power. Per capita alcohol consumption largely depends on the amount of heavy drinking in a population, not vice versa. The mathematical model is simply wrong. Numerous real world examples, including the UK in recent years, show that alcohol-related harm does not necessarily correlate w