What is it that the anti-alcohol lobby really want from the Governments in Edinburgh and Westminster? It’s impossible to really say as they duck and dive all over the place in an endless attempt to support their three favoured demands – an increase in the cost of alcohol, restrictions on the availability of alcohol and new regulations to reduce or eliminate advertising and marketing activity. And what’s their reason for these demands – is it to reduce overall consumption of alcohol – even among moderate drinkers, or maybe to “protect” children from alcohol, or to support the recovery of alcoholics and their families, or to reduce crime, empower women, boost the economy or save the NHS? It could be any or none of these worthy goals – it seems to depend on the day of the week and the most recent headlines.
Whatever it is that the temperance and anti -alcohol lobby really want the one thing that can be certain is that they are driven by a desire to restrict the ability of those working in the drinks industry to trade freely.
Restricting availability of alcohol means changes to licencing laws and opening hours, maybe separate aisles in super markets or limits on the number of drinks someone can buy. Increasing the cost of alcohol isn’t just about Minimum Unit Pricing – which if introduced in Scotland can be expected to be increased and expanded – it can also be about taxation, offers and happy hours. While restricting advertising and marketing could impact on the ability of everyone in the industry to promote their products and business – such as a ban on boards outside premises.
I haven’t come across anyone in the industry that denies excessive alcohol consumption can harm individual health and wider society. That’s why all parts of the industry invest time, money and effort into partnership programmes that support education projects, improve the management of the night time economy, provide better training for bar staff and proof of age schemes – to name but a few.
Alcohol has been part of our culture for thousands of years. It has been part of our social and celebratory life for generations. The value of a drink with friends and family is hard to calculate but for many the local pub is a place of happiness and wellbeing, the occasional evening tipple brings a simple pleasure and the enjoyment of a glass of wine with food is something to relish.
Yet if we listen to those that endlessly campaign against alcohol you would get the impression that society is awash with alcoholics, that our streets are no go areas and that we are all busy killing ourselves. This is simply untrue – the truth is that society’s relationship with alcohol is evolving and maturing. Over the past 13 years or so there has been an overall fall in consumption, underage drinking has reduced, alcohol related crime has fallen and young adults drink less year on year. While there are undoubtedly still people with serious problems and others that should review their drinking habits the vast majority of people who choose to drink enjoy alcohol in a convivial and social manner – and in moderation.
But the anti-alcohol campaigners steadfastly refuse to accept the changes and continue to preach their belief that the only way to manage drinking habits is the use of more Government regulations and greater interference in the free market and an individual’s freedom to choose.
This paternalistic approach is based on a belief that individuals are unable to decide for themselves, are unable to understand health messages and have no ability to moderate their actions. It refuses to believe targeted partnership projects can work – even though the evidence appears to prove they do.
While consumption patterns are changing the anti-alcohol lobby remain stuck in their ways – advocating policy interventions based on telling people what to do rather than trusting them to make their own decisions. And because of this lack of trust they feel it is only right to impose regulations and price increases on people just to make absolutely sure they can’t enjoy their favoured drink