Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Alcohol and Public Health

Costs of minimum alcohol pricing would outweigh benefits

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 19 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1572
  1. Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs, London
  1. csnowdon{at}

Many people disagree with a minimum price on a unit of alcohol on grounds that are evidence based, writes Christopher Snowdon in response to the BMJ’s recent series by Jonathan Gornall

We are writing regarding one of Jonathan Gornall’s articles on the influence of the alcohol industry.1 This article should never have been published in a respected academic journal, even as a feature piece, as it did not come close to the standards of scholarship that should be expected of such a journal.

Appreciation of the scientific method and the economic way of thinking

The article seems to assume that a statutory minimum price on a unit of alcohol is self evidently desirable and that, by implication, those who oppose it do so only out of sinister intentions guided by vested interests. This leads Gornall to look for financial relationships that often do not exist but are implied by association, rather than to accept the more obvious explanation that many people sincerely disagree with the policy on grounds that are evidence based. His feature makes no attempt whatsoever to engage in the scientific or economic debate but merely tries to undermine the process of pursuing knowledge in a scholarly fashion by disparaging the reputations of those on the other side of the debate. As such, it is worth restating the case that is made by the opponents of minimum pricing, arguments that have simply not been answered by the proponents.

Firstly, the idea that, all other things being equal, higher prices tend to lead to lower consumption is not such a novel insight in economics as it seems to be in public health. It is not an observation that would lead to the publication of scholarly arguments in an economics journal. However, the precise effect of minimum pricing will depend on behaviour, and the effect found in any model …

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