health care, maritimes

Minimum-price drinking laws…

Nova Scotia has just announced minimum-price laws for drinking estblishments. My question for the crowd – is this an example of a nanny government infantilizing the population or in the age of highly-expensive socialized medicine, is this move necessary?

For what it’s worth, and just to get things started, I will almost always vote for fewer, clearer laws, so I vote (A). Let ’em drink and if they do get hurt, put ’em in line, treat ’em, and send them on their way. Bars that build a reputation for fights and mayhem will soon enough see their clientelle drift away to other places, that might serve more expensive alcohol in a saner, more entertaining atmosphere.

Update: If saving provincial healthcare dollars is really the motivation and not say, pedantic moralism, then I would suggest there are other places to look as well.

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22 thoughts on “Minimum-price drinking laws…

  1. Min drink prices not only cut down on health care costs, but also the costs of policing. It’s a trade off. They aren’t raising the price to make it a total deterrent, but it does appease the teetotalers. It’s politically feasibly, easy to implement and doesn’t cut down on anyone’s freedoms, wether as a business trying to earn, or a patron trying to imbibe. Nanny-state would be prohibition. Also – a case can be made that with the protracted state of adolescence for todays teens, the peeps drinking dollar shots at the palace can hardly be expected to make rational decisions a adults.

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  2. In Alberta, they have instituted the minimum priced drinks. There was very little out-cry over this. The media and/or government have not come out to say whether the new laws have any effect on the drinking populus.
    I am on the side of infantilizing our youth, but with a caveat. I believe it is more, bad “parenting” on the government’s part to put such a taboo on drinking until age 19 (18 in Alberta & Quebec) that once these young adults are exposed to drinking many don’t know their limits, especially after a few have been imbibed. Perhaps, families should be not looked down upon when they allow their teens to have a glass of wine at dinner or family occasions so that when the age of drinking in public will be less of shock to their system.
    As for fewer clearer laws? Sure would be nice. Though the transition into that type of world will be mayhem for a long while. Remember, the human race has been infantilized such a long time. Do you think we can blame lawyers for this?

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  3. I wasn’t aware that they had passed these kind of laws way out west, too. I find it unfortunate because I think people have to be able to make mistakes, sometimes big ones, to learn anything. Yes, people might get sick, and some are going to get hurt in stupid-ass fights now and then, but if you coddle the population you will end up with a nation of imbeciles that have no sense of self-respect or responsibility. And at some point they are going to run the place. The ultimate freedom one must have is the freedom to hoist oneself on his own petard.

    Of course such laws are politically feasible, especially in a province that can run more or less without leadership or a legislature worthy of the word, but just because it’s expedient doesn’t mean it’s necessary. If the adolescents of the day behave like moderately functional idiots we are doing them a favour by giving them the opportunity to grow the fuck up.

    The only possible argument that I can see in favour of such laws is that the cost of supplying healthcare to drunken idiots “learnin’ stuff” is in effect a punishment to the taxpayer, but I think that this can be judiciously handled by applying appropriate fines for being drunk and disorderly after the band-aids are applied. Make the fine relevant to the injury. To whit, I present,

    The Wounded Git: A play in one act
    by kevvyd

    Kindly Police Officer: “Doctor, how much did it cost to fix up a busted hand?”

    Doctor: “$5,000, it needed stitches.”

    Kindly Police Officer turns to now sober, bandaged arsehole: “Here’s your fine, son, now run along and be a good boy. And you might want to get a job, that hand just cost your tuition for next term. Your parents might not care, but the Registrar is a dick.”

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  4. You hit the nail on the head when you said, “… if you coddle the population you will end up with a nation of imbeciles that have no sense of self-respect or RESPONSIBILITY.” We see this all too often in our court system, political arenas and in the classrooms. They all scream that they have rights but are unwilling to accept the responsibilities that go with them. We, as a society, are raising a populus of imbeciles that will shirk their responsibilities but expect their rights to be fully adhered to (plus extra!).
    I do like your solution in “The Wounded Git”. It reminds me of a tragedy that has played out recently in Edmonton, where a young gentleman was stabbed and killed at a house party two years ago. The accused was acquited of second degree murder and assault with a weapon. In the trial, they learned that the accused did chase the victim around a truck with a knife during the party and that knife was the murder weapon, however, the judge decided that there was enough “reasonable” doubt that the accused may not of intentionally knifed the victim.
    “Judge Terry Clackson said the teen might have been acting in self-defence at the time. Clackson also ruled that it was possible Hunt fell on the knife while the teen held it in his hand.”
    Source: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/edmonton/story/2008/12/18/edm-verdict-hunt.html
    The rights were upheld but the responsibility was thrown out the window. They plan to appeal (duh!).

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  5. I have a couple of issues with the whole minimum pricing concept:

    a. As a method of lowering health care costs and policing costs, it seems to me to be a rather blunt-force way of doing both – it’s fine for people like Cousin to state that it will, but I’m seeing a lot of blitheful hand-waving statements like ‘it’s self-evident’ and a positive dearth of actual hard evidence.

    b. It’s doubtful that it would actually work: just as a exercise, I can think of a couple of ways around a minimum pricing law:

    (1) sell a single highball for the minimum price, and then offer an upgrade to a double or triple for a dollar – an argument can be made that I’m not selling the 2nd or 3rd shot, I’m merely offering an upgrade, or

    (2) 30 dollar cover to get in, but drinks are on the house – once again, I’m not selling drinks at all – I’m selling access.

    And if *I* can come up with those ideas with 10 minutes thought, I can guarantee that a bar owner whose livelihood depends on getting as many drinks down as many patrons throats as possible is going to come up with a lot more and a lot better plans – Cousin, if you’re going to use the argument that it’s not nanny-statism because it’s not prohibition, you might want to actually study the historical period in question and see how much business speakeasies did.

    As for some ideas of better alternatives, I think Kevvyd’s right that a more rigorous application of existing laws might work. Speaking as someone who’s witnessed people get arrested at a bar, only to return a couple of hours later after being bailed out, here’s a idea – no bail unless you can pass a sobriety test. For that matter, can’t the cops keep you for 48 hours without charging you? Maybe a weekend in a cell might serve as a valuable life lesson. As for the bars, maybe a demerit point system could be put in place, the more fights that break out at your bar, the less likelihood that your license is going to get renewed.

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  6. I may have come across as too confrontational in my last post, for which I apologize – none the less, I do think a minimum drinking price law is a pointless exercise in futility, since it does nothing to address the real problem – which is University students binge drinking. The only effect that this law will have is that the bars will find some loophole to exploit as a I stated earlier, or students will just get primed up at residences instead before heading downtown. This is basically a feelgood law that lawmakers can point at and say “See? We Are Doing Something!” while accomplishing nothing. If you ask me, the best solution would be a combination of holding youth responsible for their actions, and education – let students realize that drunken brawling would not only result in a huge fine that’ll cost them their next term’s tuition, but the felony charge that results will pretty much render their whole university career an exercise in futility, since a criminal record pretty much makes you unemployable. The ugly truth is that that’s a lot harder, and would take more effort from organizations like the Provincial Governments and Student Unions, neither one of which really wants to curb student drinking, since that would cut into their profits.

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  7. Apparently Dan has discovered the Nova Scotia PC party’s policy manual. It’s titled: “See, We Are Doing Something While Accomplishing Nothing”. The really sad thing is that they don’t always even meet the modest standard set by the title.

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  8. I was thinking the same thing as Dan. What’s to stop a bar from handing out coupons for “2 for 1” drinks (if they really want to get around this law). They’re selling one drink for the provincial price, and another is a promotional item. I’m sure there’s a few owners of some shitty bars that have already thought up these schemes.

    For that matter, what’s stopping someone from chugging a bottle of Hermits before heading downtown (besides alcohol poisoning and good sense/taste)?

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  9. That’s the thing – there will always be a way for someone to chug until they puke/pass out/punch a cop. The only way to fix it is to make sure they pay the appropriate penalty afterward; hangover/memory loss, embarrassment/ jail time.

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  10. Just to toss in my inflation-dented two cents in, for what it’s worth:

    While not passing judgment on the efficacy or wisdom of minimum drink prices, there is another factor to be considered when discussing costs to the province – I am speaking specifically of Nova Scotia – of students accessing the health care system for doing something idiotic. Nova Scotia is a net importer of students, which means we have many more students coming in from outside the province than we have going elsewhere for an education. These students do bring financial benefits in patronizing bars and restaurants, paying rent, buying stuff, etc., however, they do not pay taxes here, which means a significant revenue stream that is accessible to the government for residents is not available for them.
    Just a little tidbit of information to add to the mix.
    I’m not entirely convinced that this issue can be categorized entirely as good or bad, as the interpretation is based entirely on the context. For example, if drink prices go up by, say, $1, the bar owner will still sell a considerable amount of alcohol, as I would consider someone who has been drinking for a few hours, having gotten progressively more handsome and charming, will not be deterred by spending another buck. Therefore, the bar owner will perhaps sell slightly less alcohol, but at the same cost, therefore increasing profit. A clear benefit to the retailer. Of course I don’t have evidence to support this, it is merely speculation. Again, I would have to know what the results of the change out Paul’s way before I came down conclusively for or agin.
    There’s a part of me that will always decry the idea of government as moral watchdog or substitute parent – the abrogation of responsibility for the teaching of common sense, collective empathy and civic duty by parents will necessarily result in an evolution of ‘nanny’ laws designed to maintain social order. Maintaining social order is, in part, the responsibility of any government, through courts and policing, but the creation of a socially conscious citizen has to be the responsibility of the parent. Those I know who have children (you know who you are) have invariably done it extremely well, but I will admit that my circle of close friends is limited demographically. Extending the response of law enforcement to alcohol abuse may cost more in the long run than the current expense to the health care system. Which is not to say that stupid, voluntary abuse of alcohol and the resulting bad behavior can be excused.

    Short answer is: not decided yet.
    Anyway, now that I’ve muddied the issue further by thinking out loud, I leave the debate to you.

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  11. One more point – for anyone saying that the provincial government is *sure* to draft a law that will plug any conceivable loophole – remember, we’re talking the Rodney MacDonald government here – the same bozo’s who crafted the ‘foolproof’ Sunday Shopping Bill…

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  12. I thought the ATV’s were being held in reserve to help Rodney fulfill his dream of Clown College… Actually, from seeing the news out of Nova Scotia the past little while – has anyone suggested that if you really wanted to lower medical costs, and reduce the burden of policing, that maybe making possessions of the surnames of Melvin and Marriott a criminal offence might make a difference?

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  13. Impose a tax on white people pretending to be black, or ‘gangsta’, or ‘pimps’, or any of that idiotic shit. I’d vote for that.
    Maybe $10 for each degree the bill of a ball cap deviates from the front position.

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  14. I have to go with Kev, Dan and Brian on this one. It is the equivalent of nanny-state legislation and infantilizing the population. Although I am pretty convinced that Canada has already arrived at the status ‘nation of imbeciles with no idead of self-responsibility or self respect’.

    I seriously question whether you can legislate people into not being stupid. Let them wear it, and in the extreme examples, let Mr. Darwin sort them out.

    But that’s just my flu-induced, semi-coherent opinion.

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  15. I’m late to the game here, but… the government could have better achieved the desired result— and I’m assuming for the sake of argument that the desired result is less dangerous drinking situations— if they had instead loosened the restrictions on neighbourhood pubs and such. The problem, imo, is government policy has resulted in a very few gigantic drinking malls, instead of very many smaller watering holes spread out all over the city.

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  16. Sorry to hear you’re sick, graven, hope you feel better soon.

    Good point, Tim, I’m not current on what the laws for drinking establishments is in Nova Scotia, but I know here in St. John’s, while there might be a concentration of bars on George Street, there’s a lot of pubs and clubs around the town. In addition, with a few exceptions, the George Street bars tend to be smaller. And the larger establishments are pretty well stocked with security staff. Which raises an interesting question – is there a need for this law in the first place, or is it just an emotional over-reaction to one incident? I’d have to see what the crime statistics look like, but one riot at the Liquor Dome doesn’t exactly constitute a crime wave, and most of the comments on the original CBC story seem to be more anecdotal than anything else.

    I’ve tried to find some evidence of a study on how alcohol pricing affects crime rates, there is one from the University of Sheffield, but that shows that to have any effect, you would have to increase the price of alcohol across the board, which this isn’t really close to accomplishing.

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  17. When discussing the taxation of alcohol, John Stuart Mill stated that ‘every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price.’ Following this logic, minimum drinks pricing is far more prohibitionist than alcohol taxation.

    Due to revenue concerns, Mill does support the taxation of alcohol up to a point. However, he would not have supported a prohibitionist law that would lead to a decrease in revenue for the State, certainly in terms of opportunity cost.

    Another Mill quote related to restrictions on alcohol-licensed venues is of note here. Minimum pricing sounds exactly like a policy that would be enacted in “a state of society in which the labouring classes are avowedly treated as children or savages.”

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