Know everyone's limits

19 September, 2008

Society must be less tolerant of bad behaviour if alcohol laws are to work

I'm feeling a bit uncomfortable. I've just read the Alcohol and Us supplement that came with the Guardian on Sept 10

and for anyone in the drinks industry (on and off-trade), it makes for pretty uncomfortable reading. Let's start with the basics.

What I'm not going to argue against is that, as a nation, some of us drink too much. That is a different debate for another time.

There are two

elements to the current concern: the immediate social impact of excess drinking (the antisocial reduction of quality of life, the puking and pissing in the street, the public and private violence), and the longer-term health issues (physical and mental

problems, dependency, the cost to the economy via the NHS and industry-related absenteeism).

It doesn't take much of an eye for the bleeding obvious to see that, while the health issues can, to a certain extent, be treated, it's really the social side of the problem that is cause for concern. Sort out the first, and the second follows.

To avoid any doubt, by using the word social, I'm not singling out pubs and bars - more of us chose to entertain in the safety of our homes

now that the city centres are perceived as being less welcoming, a situation that can only get worse the more we believe it.

At times of crisis, it is easy to wait for someone else to solve the problem. If the populace won't behave, then it is necessary to compel them to do so. The answer is always more legislation: the current rules don't work, so let's change them - make them more stringent, and see if that works.

The problem is, it won't work. The existing legislation is just fine. The problem is one of enforcement. The legal structure doesn't have the resources to enforce the legislation, and the populace won't get involved. We think it's not our problem.

The reason people get drunk in the park on alcohol bought from off-licences, or throw glasses in the street when they leave the pub, is that they can. There is no intervention from the law, there is no social disapproval, there is no reason not to behave like that.

If your kids are coming home drunk, find out where they got the alcohol, and let that person know of your disapproval. If a local off-licence is selling alcohol to under-age or problem drinkers, go and talk to them, and politely but firmly lay out the law. If drinkers from a local pub are pissing on your doorstep, or leaving broken glass on the pavement outside the pub, go and talk to the landlord.

It's a social problem. It has to be dealt with socially, and sociably. Don't bully, don't be aggressive - that's the behaviour you're trying to eradicate.

In all likelihood, you'll find

the person you're talking to is fed up with it too. If they're not, then they're probably not fit to hold a personal licence or supervise a premises.

Once it becomes unacceptable to drink to excess regularly, whether in public or in private, the social and health-related problems will disappear. This will happen when everyone takes responsibility for their own and others' behaviour.

It sounds fanciful, doesn't it? But there's a word for it: education.

It takes time, energy and patience to carry out and might take years to see progress. Legislation can be pushed through swiftly, and gives the outward appearance of something being done.

But I'll say it again: there is nothing wrong with the existing legislation. Either enforce more, or educate more.

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