Davenport direct

31 October, 2008

Finally, a welcome voice that urges a common-sense approach to tackling alcohol abuse

In a week when yet another salvo was

fired at the trade in the form of the Home Affairs Select Committee's report into promotions, it was refreshing to hear a common-sense view on the alcohol debate by one of the country's senior police officers. Far from welcoming further regulations, Simon O'Brien, the new head at the Association of Chief Police Officers, is more in favour of using

existing legislation

to tackle problem alcohol use.

It's a refreshing view and one that might disappoint the army of sensationalist national newspaper editors for whom pragmatic and rational thinking simply isn't helpful - because it just doesn't shift copies.

Unlike the

committee - which was tasked with probing the broad subject of

policing in the 21st

century, but decided to disproportionately focus its attention on alcohol - O'Brien says he is not seeking to grab headlines. Nor, you sense, is he trying to pander to the health lobby. Instead, he comes across a straight-talking commander with enough experience of life on the front line to know what it takes to get the job done. O'Brien is a breath of fresh air in a debate that has become too one-sided.

So, while

departmental reports fly around Westminster, many suggesting that the future must be tough new laws, here is a voice willing to question the validity of legislation. Crucially, he believes a key measurement of government intervention must be whether it is capable of delivering a cultural shift in consumer attitudes to alcohol.

But he doesn't let the trade off the hook. He also wants to see a greater commitment by retailers to use the powers available to them in the form of proof-of-age cards to eliminate problems on their own patch.

And he has also pledged to get tough on anti-social behaviour caused by alcohol and on mis-sales to the young or vulnerable. O'Brien was less committal on the thorny issue of pricing. But again he is not afraid to challenge the current status quo by stating that he would like to see the evidence supporting it before blindly assuming it is the right path to take.

With renewed calls for minimum pricing from politicians

, O'Brien's is a key intervention. More than anyone else, he is aware of what motivates consumers to over-indulge and the damage it causes

- and hopefully that higher prices will not result in the seismic shift in attitude that is needed to control the problem. But he seems to appreciate that greater enforcement of existing laws might do that - and there aren't many in the trade who wouldn't echo that view.




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