Binge-drinking, we are told, is the cause of considerable national expense. Hospital admissions directly linked to alcohol have more than doubled in the past 10 years; alcohol-related crimes and accidents have risen sharply?, and it causes domestic violence, traffic accidents and so on.
Britain’s drinking culture is said to cost the country £20 billion a year – 17 million working days are lost to hangovers and drink-related illness each year, and 40% of A&E admissions are alcohol-related (a figure that is said to rise to 70% between midnight and 5am).
We’re also told that “5.9 million people drink more than twice the recommended daily guidelines on some occasions”, as if this is a terrible, anti?social thing to do.
Alcohol, lest we forget, is a legal consumer product. Adults have every right to buy, consume and, most importantly, enjoy alcohol. I even have the right, if I so wish, to binge-drink or get drunk.
Changing definitions?What I don’t have the right to do is to become violent or aggressive or threaten people and damage property. But we already have laws, and a police force, to deter that sort of behaviour, so there’s no need for more rules and regulations.
Unfortunately some campaigns imply that anyone who gets drunk is behaving in an anti?social manner. Nonsense. Lots of people get drunk, some more often than others. That doesn’t make them bad people. Nor does it make them a danger to themselves or anyone else. In most cases it doesn’t even make them anti?social. So why tar every drinker who gets drunk? with the same brush??I accept that alcohol can have a destructive or damaging impact on individuals and those around them, and I acknowledge that there are problem areas that need to be addressed in a sensible way, but I resent and reject the idea that Britain has a “drinking problem”.
One reason why the scale of the problem is exaggerated is because the definition of binge-drinking has changed. Ten years ago, it was “10 or more drinks in one session”. Now, apparently, it’s 10 or more units for men, seven for women, with two units representing a single pint of beer or a glass of wine.
Today, politicians as diverse as Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone are lining up to support booze bans or minimum pricing. Why? Raise the tax on alcohol, for example, or introduce minimum pricing? and you’ll hurt those who can least afford it, the elderly and the low paid. It could spell the end of even more pubs and it will undoubtedly hit the local off-licence at a time when small businesses are facing the biggest recession since the war.
Worse, it could provoke a smuggling epidemic, with the result that even cheaper booze will be available on the black market. Are they mad??Other possible measures include bans on drinking alcohol in public parks; a pre-watershed ban on TV advertising; health warnings on bottles of alcohol; and a ban on so-called “happy hours” in pubs and clubs.
Increasingly, councils even want to ban drinking in public parks. Why? If someone is behaving in a drunk and disorderly manner, laws exist to stop them.
Within reason, we should be allowed to drink when and where we want. Why should ordinary law-abiding adults be refused the chance to have a can of beer or a bottle of wine with family and friends at a picnic, for example? What are the chances that anything untoward is going to happen? There is no causal link between drink and crime or violence. Most people can drink without committing an offence.
Generation of guilt?I believe that many of these campaigns are political. We live in a world where politicians are determined to be seen to be doing something. Anything. In practice, that means our lives are being micro-managed in a way that was unheard of a generation or so ago.
As with smoking, there is now a moralistic, puritanical obsession with drinking that I find deeply disturbing. In some cases, excessive drinking may result in anti?social behaviour, but this is not the norm. People who enjoy alcohol should not be made to feel guilty for the simple act of drinking, whether alone or as part of a larger group, unless they commit a criminal offence – which the overwhelming majority never do.
Meanwhile, booze bans are being introduced with little or no public debate. They are being imposed on us, often at the instigation of a small but vociferous minority or an unnecessarily fussy local council.
Setting standards?My concern is where this is leading us. If I thought for one moment politicians and health campaigners would tackle this issue with a modicum of common sense, I’d sleep easy. Instead, politicians and the evangelical health lobby never know when to stop? and are constantly looking for the “next logical step”.
Having witnessed at close hand the war on tobacco, I have seen the distortion of scientific evidence, the deliberate attempt to denormalise smoking and humiliate the consumer, and I worry the war on alcohol will follow a very similar path.
Social norms should be set by society, not by politicians and obsessive campaigners. The idea that the government should tell us how much to drink is patronising and offensive. The only impact these petty regulations, warnings and laws will have on people’s drinking is to take the joy out of it.
Now that really would be a crime.