Vice Squad
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Checking in From Kyiv

The stop in London on the way to Kyiv afforded an opportunity to scour British papers for vice policy stories. The Guardian more than met its responsibility, in part through this offering concerning an alcohol harm reduction program in Kenya. The idea is to fight alcohol problems by ensuring a steady supply of, well, cheap beer. Yes, a major alcohol producing firm is a proponent of the idea, but it is far from crazy. The underlying notion is that many alcohol problems come from informally produced (hence untaxed) high-potency alcohol, which when consumed can both bring on drunkenness quickly and (through adulterants) wreak havoc upon drinkers. Kenya has engaged in what appears to have been a successful experiment of providing a cheap (untaxed but formally produced) beer, "Senator Keg". The beer is available only in kegs, so is sold by the glass, not in bottles or cans. And it has established itself in the Kenyan marketplace; whether this establishment has come at the cost (or benefit) of reduced hooch consumption is not really addressed in the article.

Some policy pundits, particularly those who (unlike Vice Squad) oppose higher alcohol taxes (in the US, that is), like to quote Thomas Jefferson: "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap." Adam Smith expressed similar sentiments.

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