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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Thom Brooks

Brooks, Thom (2014). Alcohol, Risk and Public Policy. In Alcohol and Public Policy. Brooks, Thom London: Routledge. 27-33.

Author(s) from Durham


Alcohol occupies an important place in Western societies. It is difficult to imagine a return to prohibition as popularity or even possible. Nevertheless, alcohol is often present in crime. Or stated differently, many crimes are committed by persons that have consumed alcohol and perhaps while under its influence. Alcohol might be considered a double-edged sword as something we use when celebrating positive achievements, such as a new job or marriage, but also something used where others engage in crime. Perhaps alcohol should be permitted, but its use brings risks that may bear on public policy makers.
This chapter examines the relation of risks and public policy through the lens of alcohol and crime. Alcohol leads a double-life as a fountain of celebration, but also a wellspring of potentially serious harms. Our question is how associated risks from its use might be managed much better. This question is approached through considering three different arenas each within the broad remit of English criminal law although addressing broader issues of criminal justice more widely. The first area is drunkenness and criminal liability. The second area considers the option of an additional tax on alcohol per unit. The last arena examined is a consideration of whether nudges might be more effect.
The chapter concludes that the criminal law is a crude mechanism for grappling with complex issues of criminal responsibility for any higher risks associated with becoming under the influence. In short, the legal position is fairly intolerant and this has advantages in terms of administering justice. Higher taxation through so-called ‘sin taxes’ might also bring advantages, but there remain serious concerns to address as well. Perhaps an underexplored area for public policy decision-making is designing better nudges. This is examined and defended below.