Author:Keenan, Jillian

IN AN OLD joke, a little boy climbs onto his father's knee.

"Daddy," he says, his wide eyes bright with optimism. "Now that alcohol is so expensive, does that mean you'll drink less?"

The father laughs.

"No, my son," he replies. "It means you'll eat less."

In May, Scotland decided to test this joke on a national scale when it became the first country in the world to implement "minimum-unit pricing." The policy sets a price floor for alcohol at 50 pence (approximately 68 U.S. cents) per unit--i.e., 10 milliliters of pure booze. (A standard 25-milliliter shot of 40 percent whiskey is one unit; a standard 175-milliliter glass of 14 percent wine is 2.4 units.) That threshold won't affect the price of premium products, such as Champagne, fine wine, and craft beer, which all cost more than the new minimum to begin with, but it will cause the price of a lot of other products to skyrocket. According to data from NHS Scotland, more than half of the alcohol sold in Scottish supermarkets in 2016 cost less than 50 pence per unit--with some as little as 18 pence per unit.

The policy has good intentions: Scotland has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom, and advocates hope this policy will change that. A study using the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model suggests that the new price floor could save 392 lives within five years and lead to 8,000 fewer hospital admissions. There are also potential financial benefits: Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison claims that alcohol misuse costs the country 3.6 billion pounds ($4.9 billion) each year.

But critics argue that this policy unfairly targets the poor.

"It's not just a regressive policy," said Chris Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs. "It's a policy that actively exempts the rich. Nothing will change for people who buy fine wine. It's the people who buy boxes of wine who will be hit."

The price differences are likely to be most striking at the border, where Scottish customers have the option to drive to English stores. When The Scottish Sun compared the price of a loaded shopping cart in southern Scotland with an identical cart 30 miles south in England, it found that the Scottish cart cost 30 pounds (about $40) more--a 40 percent markup. According to critics of the policy, that kind of price increase makes it harder for low-income Scots to stock up on bargain-basement liquor for holiday gatherings, summer barbecues, or game days.

"I think there will be a bit of...

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