Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The solution to binge drinking?

I came across this article on the BBC today. It bills itself at a radical solution which will solve binge drinking. However what it actually provides is a summing up of the general misconceptions about how binge drinking will be solved. There are some ideas I actually agree with scattered through it for which I do applaud the author. In this post I'll go through each one and provide some brief comments on each one. In the future I may also extend each one to an individual blog post.

1. Subtly make drinks weaker
They use the example of bringing the average strength of lager down from 5.5%. This abhorrent viewpoint has already begun blighting this country as we see a whole raft of new announcement from various multinationals about bringing down strengths of some of their flagship brands. As I've often stated before I'm a huge fan of lower alcohol beers, what I'm not in favour of is "watering down the workers beer". Beer that was designed and the recipes made at a certain ABV should stay at that ABV.

2. Enforce a minimum price of alcohol
Again an awful idea which will have very little effect. I'd quite like to see some statistics on how much booze as a percentage of the total booze sold is actually sold below the 50p limit. I'd imagine it's very small.

3. Get people back into pubs
This actually is a good idea and I've always been an advocate of this policy. When I was 16/17 I, like many others in Britain, often sneaked into a pub for a few crafty pints from time to time. The landlords likely knew we weren't 18 but we didn't cause any trouble and surely this is better than children's first experience of alcohol being 3 litres of White Diamond in a playground. It is also very important that landlords here play a key role in the control of alcohol sold. While it makes little business sense in the short term selling alcohol to clearly drunk people should be actively discouraged in bar staff. I've worked in pubs before and have never been told that I should not serve clearly drunk customers even though it is the law.

4. Raise the legal drinking age
An awful decision for the same reasons as I've stated above. They use the example of the States as a good example of where this is working. How many drunken students need to injure themselves at frat parties before our Atlantic neighbours realise their policy isn't working. And don't even get me started on the problem on drug use amongst American teenagers.

5. Nationalise off-licences
This is one of the only points here that is actually a bit different. As a fundamental free market capitalist I intrinsically distrust all nationalisations. My main concern here is that if nationalised these off-licences could easily be used to push government agenda etc.

6. Discourage rounds
An old WW1 policy that rears it's ugly head again. An awful idea; the Great British Round is here to stay.

7. Ban alcohol marketing
I'm not too sure on this one. While I think this would make a more level playing field for all breweries to compete on I also don't think this would really do anything to change the culture of beer and sport being intrinsically interlinked. It'd also be interesting to see if when a similar ban was placed on smoking advertising if it made any difference. (Does anyone know this?)

8. Target middle-class professionals
This I'm also stuck between 2 points. While I agree that the Rioja brigade may need to sit down and look at their drinking habits, the bottle of wine a night man is clearly not doing his body any good, in between complaining about the poor people getting drunk on cheap tinnies of lager. I think the point that needs to be made here is that there is a whole generation of people (40-60 which is my parents generation) for whom the amount they drink has never really been questioned or discussed. However I think that in comparison to the wider problems of anti-social behaviour, public drunkenness and violence it clearly is not as much of a problem.

9. Not in front of the children
Another absolutely awful idea. Frank Furedi from Paranoid Parenting sums it up quite nicely. The more  the mystique is taken away from alcohol the less children will want to rebel. Again see point 3. If parents don't teach their kids about responsible drinking then who will? The big bad government wolf?

10. Stop exaggerating the problem
Here is the crux of the argument. I can't agree with this more. Alcohol consumption is falling, we already drink less than, but pay a load more tax than, a whole swathe of European countries who don't think it necessary to have this ridiculous alcohol lobby. 

So that's my rant on common alcohol misconceptions over but what solutions am I proposing? Well that's for another time I think.

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