Pricing Your Addiction

There’s an interesting report from the World Health Organization about the societal costs of alcohol addiction. The headline tells the tale: “Alcohol Kills more than AIDS, TB or Violence.” It seems, as the basic needs or food and water are met in less developed countries the next step on the road toward a first class economy.

Alcohol legislation and education about the dangers lags far behind the ability to buy and drink large quantities. As the number of citizens driving cars goes up, so do the deaths from drunk driving. Family problems and lost work also emerges with the popularity of binge drinking. It seems the gifts of progress are not all worth having.

On a personal basis, we all know the price alcohol demands of us. Along with the dramatic – the family break-ups, arrests and job loss – comes the slow disease that ruins our bodies and minds. One idea, to keep this epidemic in check, would be to increase the immediate cost of alcohol by setting a minimum price and levying high import taxes.

The idea is to keep alcoholic beverages too expensive to become an everyday escape. The response from the beverage industry? Increasing the selling price would lead to more homemade hooch manufacture as a dangerous alternative.

What a tough job that must be – coming up with a rationale to allow a dangerous product to be imported so your market sector can expand.

I suppose, if I were King of the World, I might give prohibition a shot. For all the insistence that it was a failed program, some countries – about a dozen with various levels of prohibition – seem to manage it. I sometimes wonder if the good of a prohibition outweighs the ill but cannot decide. At least the World Health Organization is documenting the damage, if not the will to do anything about it.

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