1743 CE
The hypocrisy in gin control exposed

By 1743, the British Parliament was committed to enacting a gin law that would be obeyed. Lord Lonsdale pointed out during debate on the matter that the discriminatory nature of previous laws had made the people “more fond of dram drinking than ever; because they then began to look upon it as an insult upon the rich.” No restrictions had ever been imposed on the wine and brandies of the upper classes who also drank a huge amount (including the Prime Minister).

The government needed more money to fund a new war in Europe. Some were suggesting a "patriotic" excise tax on gin. Lord Hervey, however, argued, "We have mortgaged almost every fund that can decently be thought of; and now, in order to raise a new fund, we are to establish the worst sort of drunkenness by a law, and to mortgage it for defraying an expense which, in my opinion, is both unnecessary and ridiculous. This is really like a tradesman’s mortgaging the prostitution of his wife or daughter, for the sake of raising money to supply his luxury or extravagance. . . . The Bill, my lords, is . . . an experiment . . . of a very daring kind, which none would hazard but empirical politicians. It is an experiment to discover how far the vices of the population may be made useful to the government, what taxes may be raised upon a poison, and how much the court may be enriched by the destruction of the subjects."

Parliament settled on a compromise—a strict licensing system, with affordable licenses and an excise paid by distillers. Its aims were to restrict demand with high prices, yet not so high as to encourage black market distillation. It also set a precedent by introducing the concept that the taxation of alcoholic beverages should be on a sliding scale and rise in direct proportion to their strength. The 1743 Gin Act was a qualified success, until 70,000 demobilized soldiers returned from the wars in Europe with no jobs to go to and no arrangements for their support. Disorder returned.

Source: Gately. (2008). Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. Penguin.

Drugs: Alcohol
Regions: UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
Topics: Health and social problems, Taxation and regulation