Novelist. Author of APSARAS and tales from the beautiful Saigh Valley. First person to quantify spiritual values.

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Sunday 6 June 2010

The Cost of Alcohol

Nick Collins wrote in the Telegraph (31/5/2010) that the National Institute for ClinicaL Excellence, NICE were recommending that the Government tackle alcohol related problems by increasing the cost of alcohol.

He wrote:

NICE, which is the government's principal adviser on health policy, will this week tell ministers the controversial proposal is the best method of cutting Britain's alcohol consumption and reducing underage drinking and binge drinking.

Similar plans were turned down by Gordon Brown's Labour government and by the Conservatives in opposition, and drinks companies are vehemently opposed to it, saying it will be ineffective.

But medical bodies including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians have endorsed minimum pricing proposals, and the recommendation from Nice will bring the question back to the table.

It will come as part of a number of proposals by Nice aimed at cracking down on crime, anti-social behaviour and illness caused by drink.

Experts for the institute have spent almost two years researching the most effective ways of tackling social problems caused by alcohol, which cost up to £27 billion a year in health care, crime, disorder and lost productivity.

Nice estimates that twenty five per cent of people in Britain consume levels of alcohol that are potentially harmful to their physical and mental wellbeing.

I have worked in the hospitality industry for twenty-five years as both a tenant in pubs and owner of a hotel and I have observed drinkers and drinking at very close quarters. I believe that NICE are deluding themselves if they believe that increasing the cost of alcohol will change peoples habits and lifestyles. Here are several reasons why:-

They refer to research they have carried out; no doubt at great cost to the tax payer. Some of this research will be based on verbal testimony of drinkers. I can assure you that almost all heavy drinkers are liars when questioned on the matter of their consumption, both on the amount they drink and the regularity of their drinking. Any research that uses drinker's testimony is suspect.

Drinkers will pay whatever it takes to secure their drink. They would rather that their kids went without shoes than give up their habit. This determination comes from the need to support an addiction, alcoholism, peer pressure to maintain a lifestyle and pressure from advertising that links to identification with celebrity culture.This latter is particularly important to younger people and especially girls.

If the problem cannot be solved by raising costs, what can be done?
Firstly I would ban advertising on television, other than where it is done in conjunction with a sporting event and then without any reference that the product enhances performance.

Begin immediately a counter advertising campaign designed to stigmatise excessive drinking. Show graphic images and footage of people behaving badly on the street and in hospitals and condemn them roundly. Let people know it is unacceptable behaviour. If it were possible I'd lock offenders in the stocks so that their neighbours and colleagues could see them.
Shame and name people found incapable in the public areas. Fining people is only money. Shame them in front of their family and friends. If it happens often enough they'll get the message. The first time they get street cred but not thereafter.
Police already have laws to prosecute landlords that serve drink to intoxicated people. Beef this up; prosecute more often. Punish guilty landlords that are reckless with their customers wellbeing and tell the breweries that unrealistic sales targets given to managers must be outlawed. Corner shops that have a license must be strict about observing the law. There is a minimum age under which one cannot serve drink, in the same way that you cannot buy alcohol under eighteen. The law is there. Use it! It is always easy for a small shop owner to serve the drunk and get rid of them, rather than risk a confrontation. This only stokes up trouble for later. Small retailers should understand the need to get this right as alcohol sales are an important element of their sales.

If any of these solutions offend somebodies rights under the Human Right Act, change the law.

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