Regulating the availability and conditions of use

In terms of the substantial harms to health and public order they can cause, alcoholic beverages are not ordinary commodities. Governments have thus often actively intervened in the markets for such beverages, far beyond usual levels of state intervention in markets for commodities.

Total prohibition can be viewed as an extreme form of regulation of the market. In this circumstance, where no-one is licensed to sell alcohol, the state has no formal control over the conditions of the sales which nevertheless occur, and there are no legal sales interests, controlled through licensing, to co-operate with the state in the market's regulation.

With a general prohibition, typically the consumption of alcohol does fall in the population, and there are declines also in the rates of the direct consequences of drinking such as cirrhosis or alcohol-related mental disorders.(1 22) But prohibition also brings with it characteristic negative consequences, including the emergence and growth of an illicit market, and the crime associated with this. Partly for this reason, prohibition is not now a live option in any developed society, although it is in some other societies.

The features of alcohol control regimes, regulating the legal market in alcohol, vary greatly. Special taxes on alcohol are very common, imposed often as much for revenue as for public health considerations. Many societies have minimum age limits forbidding sales to underage customers, and regulating forbidding sales to the already intoxicated. Often the regulations include limiting the number of sales outlets, restricting hours and days of sale, and limiting sales to special shops or drinking places. Rationing of alcohol purchases—limiting the amount individuals can buy in a given time period—has also been used as a means of regulating availability. Regulations restricting or forbidding advertising of alcoholic beverages attempt to limit or channel efforts by private interests to increase demand for particular alcoholic beverage products. Such regulations potentially complement education and persuasion efforts. State monopolization of sales of some or all alcoholic beverages at the retail and/or wholesale level has also commonly been used as a mechanism to minimize alcohol-related harm. (23)

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