Saturday, 9 January 2010

Binge Britain

It would seem damned near impossible to have an informed and reasoned debate about the problems of alcohol in this country. Impossible because the arguments appear polarised between the health-puritans on one side and the conspiracy-theory-freedom-to-drink-oneself-to-death-brigade on the other, whilst the silent majority sit dumb fat and happy with their pint/glass in the middle wondering why moderation isn't the order of the day.

Yesterday, as reported in The Guardian, the health select committee published a long awaited report in which they chastise the government for virtually ignoring Britain's "shocking" rise in binge drinking and alcoholism. Saying that government policies have ranged from "the non-existent to the ineffectual". Those whose main focus is the health of the nation and the cost of providing health care to all are clearly worried, and I suspect with good reason. Whilst data and statistics on the extent of the problem often seem fuzzy and/or contradictory, only a fool would stick their head in the sand, ostrich like, and deny that there is a problem. There is a problem, and you only have to venture out into any urban environment on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night to see it. No it's not just youthful high spirits, late in the night and into the early hours there are large numbers of people seriously bladdered. Early in the evening you see them congregating in groups, at selected pubs and bars, preparing for the off with shots, alcopops, cheap wine and occasionally pints of Euro-fizz, getting as much 'cheap' booze down their necks in as short a space of time as they can. Of course in many respects this isn't a new phenomenon, we've been here before. The Victorian gin palace culture is a prime example. But what is to be done?

I don't have any answers I'm afraid. But no caring and compassionate individual with a conscience can advocate that we ignore it in the hope that it will go away. Thousands are doing themselves serious harm and the only thing I can think of is education. In reality 'cheep' booze isn't cheap at all, it just happens to be 'subsidised' by us tax payers funding the NHS. Don't get me wrong, I do not favour raising taxes on alcohol or having minimum price levels, but I do think the latter is a strong possibility. Governments of either persuasion are only ever interested in one way of dealing with problems. That's with expediency, and as little cost as possible. I fear the days of 'cheap' alcohol are numbered.

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