New provisions of the law regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol may hinder economic activity. Everything under the guise of struggle for a sober society…
A few weeks ago, the amendment to the Act on restricting alcohol sales came into force. Said amendment gives municipalities the possibility of limiting night sales of alcohol in stores and introduces new regulations on drinking alcohol in public.
On the one hand, the new provisions allow for a flexible introduction and abolition of restrictions on trade and alcohol consumption. There is, for example, the possibility of permitting alcohol consumption in popular tourist and party places. This is the case in Warsaw, where the possibility of alcohol consumption on the Vistula boulevards has just been introduced.
The decision in this matter in the current legal status lies within the competences of councillors who can indicate “designated areas [where alcohol consumption is allowed]”. And in Warsaw such a decision (regarding the left bank of the Vistula river) was made. Rationalisation of policy in this matter is indeed a step in the good direction.
However, there are other, more complex instances. In Kraków, in the course of public consultations, as many as 11 districts voted for the introduction of night prohibition within their jurisdiction. Among them: The Old Town. This change is not a permanent ban on the sale of alcohol; one may still buy alcohol in restaurants, but in stores – not any longer.
Such decisions are the result of social unrest resulting, inter alia, from brawls and disturbance of peace. In these situation, residents and their representatives are willing to go for the simplest solutions in the form of prohibition and/or restrictions.
Nevertheless, without questioning the social importance of the war on alcoholism, any attempts to close down stores or restrict alcohol trade should be evaluated as dangerous and inappropriate, both in social and economic terms.
In place of closed-down stores, immediately, new points of illegal alcohol trade (known from the times of the socialist regime) will appear. There, trade will take place outside of any control – minors and people under the influence of alcohol will be serves as well. Illegal points of trade may be a source of sales of alcohol either smuggled or produced illegally. This poses a huge risk to health and even the lives of people buying such alcohol.
Another problem, however, is of key importance – the economic situation of legally trading entrepreneurs. In stores open 24/7 or e.g. until midnight, alcohol sales are currently an important source of revenue. Depriving them of income will significantly limit the companies’ development potential and may also contribute to a decline in employment.
In recent years, rents for merchants and restaurants in Polish cities have increased significantly. In the business plans of Polish entrepreneurs, the sale of alcohol has become a prerequisite for obtaining income enabling them to pay high rents to municipalities. This applies in particular to cities with the largest tourist potential, where rents have been growing the fastest.
In many a case, night-time sales, including sales of alcohol, are not a whim, but an economic necessity for small retail outlets.
Introducing prohibition and restrictions, without taking into account the situation of this group of entrepreneurs, is a blow to the economic fundamentals of Polish companies and Polish stores. On the other hand, retail chains will not be impacted whatsoever.
Understanding the need to fight pathological phenomena associated with excessive alcohol consumption, we postulate the use and enforcement of clear rules related to restrictions on alcohol sales (minors, people under the influence of alcohol). In our opinion, these are more important activities that give hope for effective counteracting of alcoholism than prohibition, be it mild, only striking legal trade.
In the case of introducing administrative restrictions in the alcohol trade, we consider it necessary to modify the rent policy in cities, consisting in lowering rates in municipal premises rented for commercial activities.
In our opinion, it will also be necessary to introduce amendments in cities’ tax policies (real estate tax) towards buyers who are to be partially deprived of earning a living.