Latest News: We’re a Nation of Drunks

Latest News: We're a Nation of Drunks

In ‘Latest News’, FIPA flags up thought-provoking material recently published on the web.

This post looks at increasing fears around an unhealthy drinking culture in the UK, the forthcoming Department of Health ‘alcohol strategy’ document, and the campaigning of anti-alcohol lobby groups.


 

Following a fairly successful campaign to ‘de-normalise’ smoking, health charities and lobby groups have now turned their attention to alcohol.

Booze consumption is increasingly seen as a urgent social problem requiring a governmental response, and David Cameron has now declared himself happy to oblige:

“Every night, in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the country, people have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse. And the problem is getting worse. Over the last decade we’ve seen a frightening growth in the number of people – many underage – who think it’s acceptable for people to get drunk in public in ways that wreck lives, spread fear and increase crime.

This is one of the scandals of our society and I am determined to deal with it.”

 

THE DRINK PROBLEM

Writing in The Guardian, Sarah Boseley paints a picture of a country gone to the dogs:

“City streets are full of shouting, brawling young people as the clubs and pubs spill out and many of them do their sobering up in A&E. The cost to the NHS is £2.7bn, including £1bn spent in A&E. Then there is the crime and disorder on the streets, the accidents and the domestic violence – in all of which innocent, non-drinking people can be killed.”

A new Department of Health ‘Change 4 Life’ ad says drinking two large glasses of wine or two strong pints of beer a day triples the risk of developing mouth cancer.

The Daily Mail says alcohol shrinks the brain, and claims “Children as young as 11 are drinking the equivalent of 15 shots of vodka a week”.

In the Huffington Post, Keli Goff urges feminists to acknowledge a connection between alcohol and rape — comparing a woman’s choice to get drunk with men, to another’s choice to get in a car with a drunk driver.

And Alcohol Concern claims that “alcohol plays a part of 35-33% of known cases of child abuse” and “8 million people are affected by a family member’s alcohol use”.

Sidestepping these more serious risks, the Alcohol Behaviour Change campaign opts for “appealing to people’s vanity” and making people aware that “the effects of alcohol can include red broken veins on the cheeks, bloodshot eyes, a bloated face and deeper wrinkles”.

Similarly, Drink Smarter (in an oddly exclamatory fashion) informs us that:

“At 7 calories per gram, alcohol has nearly as many calories as pure fat! As you might know, there are almost 200 calories in just one large glass of wine! That’s nearly as many as a four chocolate covered wafers or packet of crisps!”

 

THE ALCOHOL STRATEGY: A NEW ERA

Although, according to Cancer Research UK, UK drinkers consume less alcohol than those in other European countries, a stubborn minority of heavy drinkers remain unperturbed by the Department of Health’s “responsible drinking” campaign, and alcohol-related deaths remain steady at just under 9,000 per year.

Consequently, doctors fear deaths could increase and health charities and anti-alcohol lobby groups say regulation is needed.

Last year, angered by the government’s unwillingness to consider legislative force against the alcohol industry, health charities abandoned the DoH ‘responsibility deal’ committee. But the alcohol strategy document to be published in the next few weeks marks a new stage in the war on booze.

Health minister Anne Milton says the strategy takes a “life course approach” to tackling the drink problem, and proposes “deadly serious” new measures to reduce consumption.

recommendation that the alcohol industry ‘water down’ its drinks will be one of those measures, and minimum alcohol pricing will be another — the latter already taken by the Scottish parliament. Writing in The Scotsman, Hugh McLachlan described minimum alcohol pricing as “arbitrary, whimsical and paternalistic”; and legal advisors warned the legislation could be illegal under EU Free Trade rules.

Other measures will include the use of ‘drunk tanks’ (“mobile police cells to hold intoxicated revellers until they sober up”), and ‘booze buses’ that will cruise the streets looking for overly merry drinkers to intercept before they commit a crime or become ill. The Police Federation called these suggestions “dangerous”, claiming the police have insufficient resources to implement them and pointing out that, “People who are very drunk can be vulnerable and often require medical attention, so locking them in a confined space is not an effective solution”.

The Daily Mail reports that a pilot scheme to be launched in London will see those convicted of drink-related offences forced to wear ‘bracelets’ that detect if the wearer has consumed alcohol:

“The bracelet, often attached to the ankle, records the wearer’s alcohol intake by measuring air and perspiration emissions from the skin every 30 minutes, and can also detect minuscule blood alcohol levels. It then sends the information to a monitoring system electronically.”

And seeking to further extend legislative reach: Alcohol Concern urges companies to take action against the consumption of alcohol by employees in their private lives. And Brian Kellett proposes, in The Guardian, a ‘drinking license’ that accumulates points for criminal and anti-social behaviour:

A point here, a point there, and when you accumulate enough points to prove that you are not adult enough to use a mind-altering substance responsibly then, much like someone who is too dangerous to drive, your drinking licence is taken away.

I don’t see this as infringing liberties any more than a driving or firearms licence. Certainly, alcohol kills more people a year than cars and guns put together.

 

PLEASURE IN THE NOW

On Spiked, Timandra Harkness writes:

It’s not that we don’t understand the effects of that relaxing pint or two on our bodies. It’s that official health campaigners just don’t understand why we drink alcohol. We don’t drink for its medicinal effects. Drinking is a social activity that we share with friends, family, or somebody we’d be too shy to chat up sober. We may even drink because we like the taste or (whisper it) because we like the feeling of being drunk.

We’re not idiots. We simply don’t organise our lives around optimising our eventual health outcomes. We have to die of something, sooner or later. These days, it’ll probably be in old age. And most of us don’t want to devote those 70, 80 or 90 years we get to being our doctors’ most perfect exhibits.

And writing in The Guardian, on ‘The trouble with tobacco haters’, David Hockney (though not a fan of heavy drinking) describes himself as:

Someone who is fed up to the teeth with people who think they really know what health is. Someone who is not afraid of the cowardly, crooked politicians who stifle the debate about pleasure in the now. Someone who knows that time is elastic. … Someone who thinks laughter is good for you as it drains fear from the body. Someone who has something better to do than to try and control the quiet lives of others. Someone who knows we are all a bit different and is fed up with the growing regimentation of people.

 

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About FIPA

Freedom in a Puritan Age publishes articles and essays on the subject of politics, culture and liberty in contemporary society. Its aim is to identify countervailing currents in progressive thought within contemporary culture and provide alternative viewpoints on issues of importance. FIPA is the sister journal of The Leeds Salon.