Where does the line between the personal responsibility of adults and the role of government lie? This question has exercised the minds of our industry leaders for many years.
We know that, for the vast majority of the population, drinking alcohol in moderation is both legal and one of the great pleasures of life. Yet we also know that when abused it causes immature social behaviour and for the unfortunate few leads to social impairment and addiction. For some, it can lead to irreparable physical harm. Where is the balance?
According to home secretary Theresa May, “alcohol-fuelled harm” costs taxpayers some £21 billion a year, and she expects the industry to reduce this burden. There are some who might say that the tax on alcohol paid by the industry and the personal taxes paid by individuals already provide a massive contribution.
In the politics of the real world, the industry must help address the need for responsible drinking and provide the necessary information for adults to make their own informed decisions.
So in addition to rigorous adherence to marketing codes for brand owners and retailers and the excellent work of the Portman Group, companies have now voluntarily added six more pledges to the existing eight already made under the government’s Responsibility Deal. These include providing money for education in schools, training 10,000 on-premise staff on the issue and promoting lower-alcohol products. In all, some 690 firms across the food and drink industries have signed up to promote the Responsibility Deal.
Some argue that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by doing this. They say marketers are being cynical supporters of this initiative because they have no alternative. I don’t.
In my experience, most drinks marketers are in love with their products because of how they taste and their provenance. They actually don’t want to see the social consequences of irresponsible personal consumption, nor do they seek to harm anyone.
No, this support is that of a mature industry, doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.