BBC BLOGS - Mark Easton's UK
« Previous | Main | Next »

Map of the week: Booze, cost and consumption

Post categories:

Mark Easton | 15:21 UK time, Monday, 10 November 2008

As the government is urged to introduce a minimum price for alcohol to curb excessive drinking, I wondered how clear the relationship is between cost and consumption.

My Map of the Week looks at the price of alcohol across Europe and allows you to compare that with consumption in each country.The years don't entirely match - the most recent consumption data is from 2003
while the price comparison is from 2006 but I doubt the broad trends will have changed dramatically in those 36 months.

You can see that the priciest booze is in Norway - more than twice the European average. Alcohol in the UK is one-and-a-half times the average while France and Germany have cheaper than average prices.

Norway has the lowest consumption with France and Germany consuming slightly more per head than the UK. Luxembourg has the highest consumption and one of the lowest prices.

It is not a perfect fit, but there does seem to be a correlation between price and consumption. Average consumption is 9.1 litres per capita while the average price is set at a nominal 100.

Excluding the UK and Ireland, 14 of the 18 countries we have looked at see an inverse relationship between above/below average prices and above/below average consumption.

So is there something odd about the experience in Great Britain and Ireland? In both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom, there are above average prices and above average consumption.

However, focusing on the UK, the story could hardly be clearer. This graph published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows the relationship between price relative to disposable income and alcohol consumption.

BMJ graph

The Home Affairs Select committee, which is today calling for a minimum price for alcohol, discovered that not everyone is convinced by the data.

"We encountered some scepticism about the impact of price on drinking habits. The Head of Licensing for Asda, Rob Chester, told us that the UK has the second highest duty rates on alcohol in Europe but worse drink-related problems than most other European countries," their report notes.

Duty is not the same as price, and drink-related problems are not the same as per capita consumption. But does Mr Chester have a point?

I have dug out some European data on drinking habits among 15-16 year-olds which confirm, to some extent, our teenagers' reputation as binge-drinkers.

However, the link between price and problem drinking is not so obvious.

In the UK, 27% of 15-16-year-olds in the 2003 ESPAD study said they had been binge-drinking at least three times in the previous 30 days. (Binge drinking is defined as five drinks or more in a row.)

However, the figures for Norway and Sweden are not much lower, 24% and 25%, even though overall consumption is well below the British level. The figure for Germany and the Netherlands is 28%. In Ireland it is 32%.

At the other end of the spectrum, only 9% of French 15-16 year-olds were binge-drinkers, 13% of Italians and 8% of Belgians.

This suggests to me that while price does influence overall consumption, problem drinking is a cultural phenomenon and may not respond so readily.

Nevertheless, I suspect cost would be a factor for 15-16 year-olds hanging around the shopping arcade and a minimum price might well have some impact on the quantity consumed by young Friday-night binge-drinkers.

It would also, of course, mean additional expenditure for the millions of responsible citizens who enjoy the occasional beer or glass of wine as they face up to the consequences of the economic downturn.

UPDATE: 17:14

FormerScouser's question prompts me to post this amazing graph from the Cabinet Office showing a hundred years of alcohol consumption in the UK. It appears it is wine and spirits that has pushed up the consumption figures in the last fifty years or so. But, I must say, I had no idea we drank so much back in 1900!


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.