Thursday, April 29, 2010

Different Class

Health policy - it's a game of two halves. On the one half, you have the Associate Minister for Health making a midnight raid on the faggers, bringing about a rise in tobacco tax under not just urgency, but extraordinary urgency. On the other half, you have the other Associate Minister for Health damning with faint praise the Law Commission's report on Alcohol:
Clearly there are a lot of proposals, and some, such as raising the alcohol excise, are perhaps aspirational, but the Government will give due consideration to the entirety of the report.

“I look forward to working with my Ministerial colleagues on doing that and drawing out the recommendations that will best achieve an environment where responsible alcohol use marks the New Zealand drinking culture,” he said.

Breathing is aspirational as well, yet the Government seems to favour that. So what's the difference? Class, that's what. The home life of our own dear Prime Minister is a responsible drinking culture. Rarely is he seen in a relaxed, informal setting without an acceptable drink: a glass of crisp white wine when at home, a bottle of some authentic South Island beer when he is grilling an authentic Kiwi barbecue with the Young Pretender in the garden of Government House, a bottle of the sponsor's beer when he is hanging out the gym with the All Blacks in a manly but not homo-erotic way.

Mr Key is Mr Reponsible Drinking. But he is as likely to be seen with a fag as to grow a beard. Prime Ministers do not do that sort of thing anymore. The other Associate Minister for Health, who once relaxed at the expense of British American Tobacco, now enjoys the hospitality of the brewers.

Smoking is a poor man's addiction, as Mrs Turia observes. Nice people stopped smoking years ago and the only middle-class smokers left are a few Bohemian types. On the middle-class scale of values, smoking is higher than glue-sniffing and mainlining H, but only slightly higher. Smoking dope is far more acceptable; in some communities it is almost mandatory. Smoking P is utterly unacceptable, except among the property-developing community. Contradictory? Of course, but we are the bourgoisie: we make the rules and some of them we observe.

So we, the bourgoisie, are quite happy to make smoking prohibitively expensive for those who do it. We will also take measures against the use of some forms of alcohol, such as RTDs - which are only consumed by teenage sluts who are bound to get pregnant and then live on the DPB for the next 18 years. But Mr Revenueman, you can keep your hands off our Gew├╝rztraminer.


Megan Clayton said...

It is perhaps not quite relevant to the argument, but I do wonder at the extent to which supermarket loss-leading around wine and to a lesser extent beer has played a role in cementing the current version of our drinking culture. The students whom I teach can afford wine in particular far more palatable than I could fifteen years ago, when I think our flat's house wine was Queen Adelaide Regency Red.

Others' citation of the Scandinavian countries where alcohol is prohibitively expensive for young people but binge culture still exists means I'm not going to argue that making the Gewurztrauminer more expensive will stop binge drinking. But I do wonder the role cheaper mid-range tipples play in cementing young drinkers' initial habits of consumption, much as the cigarette companies try to lock in those who have already started smoking.

(The other difference I note between myself and the young drinkers of today is that I used to drink in flat shoes because they were the style at the time. I passed two young women in suburban Sockburn last night who were walking while each carrying a fag, a tall can of beer and an RTD. One kept falling off her high high heels. I would never have had that last problem.)

Psycho Milt said...

Now, when I were a lad, your flat's "house wine" tended to be crates of DB or Waitemata pale ale (or Lion Brown if you were totally a lost cause) because normal people didn't drink wine. And it was comparable with house wine only if you tend to sit and scone all your wine in one go and then scavenge for leftover liqeurs that sober people would find undrinkable. Oddly enough, these days I find it difficult to take moral panics about "binge drinking" seriously.

I expect the govt's assumption that making the addict's fix more expensive will drive them to overcome their addiction, which they seem to be actively pursuing with P and dope as well as tobacco, will usher in a cheery new wave of junior burglars and muggers. Oh, joy.

Paul said...

I drank Queen Adelaide only once, and that was more than enough. Drink does seem to be ridiculously cheap these days (as an art historian, I never buy the stuff but consume it in large amounts at exhibition viewings) and is pushed at the young. We had the Drinking Horn at varsity this week - an event in which students play silly drinking games with the sponsor's beer. Everywhere you go there are happy hours and the pushing of high alcohol content drinks - shots and so on - at young consumers. The breweries know they can capture customer loyalties for life; they also know that young people make some very stupid buying decisions, especially when they are already drunk. The breweries have no interest in responsible drinking. They are deplorable and should be stopped.

Peter in Dundee said...

Over here in UK we are having the same argument. The govt has just increased the, traditionally low, excise on cider because the lower order yoof are getting pissed on White Lightning a 'cider' that has very little to do with apples, is strong and dirt cheap. The problem of course is how do you legislate to hit that product but leave Mr Weston's finest oak matured West Country vintage cider (very nice it is too)?

An alternative floated by some politicians is minimum pricing based on the number of units. This has the advantage of raising the price of RTDs and stopping loss leading of supermarket beers without hitting that bottle of estate Gewurtz which is already sold at a price well above the minimum.

It's a nice idea (unless you are poor responsible drinker) but is falling foul of EU rules on price fixing etc. That might be easier to do in NZ.

The breweries would not necessarily be averse. Their volume sales may go down but their income would be neutral.

Paul said...

Good point. And let us not forget the Neds with their liking for Buckfast, one of the strangest cultural mixes ever created.

Peter in Dundee said...

Ah yes, good old Bucky. The Monks are apparently not keen on the minimum pricing based on units idea since it would dramatically raise the price of their product as it is fortified.

I am cautiously in favour of the idea since it is more subtle than the Scandinavian method of sky high prices and limited availability (outlets only open for 2hrs in the middle of the working day). Minimum pricing doesn't penalise the responsible drinker and encourages moderation while pricing alcohol beyond pocket money prices.

I must in all honesty though admit that this is in part because the price of very little that I drink would rise except perhaps for the cheaper cask strength single malts.

It might also tackle a modern feature that is part of the problem, the rise of alcohol strength. When I were a lad wine was between 10.5% and 11.5% now it is routinely 13%. What used to be Strong Ales at 5% are now perfectly ordinary, despite the label on Old Speckled Hen. It is hard to find a beer at 3.5% outside of seasonal summer cask beers. Minimum pricing based on units of alcohol would discourage this trend, to the benefit of all.

We are storing up a liver disease time bomb that will cost all of us in a few years time.