The festive season of Christmas always brings its delightful round of parties. The corks pop and alcohol flows in abundance.Alas, so do the hangovers, drink driver arrests, and hospital admissions for alcohol related injuries.
The questions raised are two fold. Firstly, does society need to re-evaluate its relationship with its oldest and most widely used drug?
Secondly, is the grip of the alcohol industry so strong, that the process of the regulation and control of alcohol breaking down? Is it the case that so extreme were Labour attempts to woo big business; that the controls on alcohol became so relaxed to the point we now live in a drug dealer’s paradise?
World Health Organisation
The World Health Organisation defines a drug as ‘any substance that, when taken into a living organism, may modify one or more of its functions’. Drugs that alter the individual’s psychological state are known as psychotropic drugs. Alcohol clearly fails into this category.
Human beings have this unique ability to self deceive. We tell ourselves alcohol is not a drug. It is in fact a beverage rather like tea. We only drink it for the taste, bouquet, colour, to keep the cold out, be social, and appear attractive to the opposite sex.
We never, ever drink it just to get smashed. After all that would make us resemble a drug user.
If we started getting morning shakes and found our lives revolved around our next drink, which we start to crave with increasing anxiousness, then the ugly word ‘junkie’ would come to mind.
Since 1916 premises licensed for the sale of alcoholic beverages had been strictly regulated. Opening and closing times were controlled. However in 2005 the Labour Government relaxed the rules. Pubs and clubs were henceforth permitted to peddle their wares around the clock.
The idea was that we would suddenly embrace the continental café culture. We would all get up at 3am and sip three units of alcohol before quietly returning to bed.In reality this madness has led to an upsurge in cocaine use and other stimulant drugs which enable the hardened drinker to stay awake throughout the night.
In my home town,Brighton, weekends regularly see clubbers arriving on the last inbound trains around 11.30pm. The trains home start running at 5am.Are these predominately young people drinking the recommended two to three units? Are they avoiding taking any illegal drugs? Are they walking quietly back to the station without disturbing any local residents?
Many pubs and clubs offer incentives to drink more. ‘Two for the price of one,’ is a slogan used by many. The object being to get the customers drunk, then relieve them of as much cash as possible.
Will we see the local ‘crack’ cocaine house accepting credit cards? Or the chemists’ prescription medicines counter having a ‘happy hour’?The reality is that 40% of all hospital admissions to Accident and Emergency are alcohol related.
In 2008 the Office of National Statistics reported 9,031 people died from alcohol related illnesses. The total deaths attributable to drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, in the same year was 1,738.
Thirty-three poor souls die every week from narcotics. One hundred and seventy-three die from our ‘safe’ beverage.
The HMRC disclosed that last year £9 billion was raised in alcohol duties. It said this is around 2% of the Government’s revenue.However, if we include VAT, income tax on all the various workers from the distilleries to supermarket staff, the total take for the government from its drug trafficking activities is far higher.
One trade lobby, the Food and Drink Federation, estimates its member firms account for 20% of GDP.
If the Government can bring itself to accept that the changes it made went too far and need reversing, what would the effect be? By this we mean reintroducing strict opening and closing times.Between 1916 and 1918 beer consumption fell by 63% and spirits by 52%.
However would the Government be able to tighten the rules in order to protect its citizens’ health? Or is the alcohol industry lobby too powerful?
The amount spent by the industry last year on advertising the joys of alcoholism was £800 million.
In 1965 it was becoming apparent that tobacco was deadly. All television advertising was banned. Eventually cigarette packets were required to carry health warnings.
At the time television was in its infancy. Now, it is a powerful pressure lobby in its own right. It is doubtful whether it would give up such a lucrative customer without a fight.
The Civil Service when considering new legislation tends to approach the industry causing the problem for advice on how to proceed.
The trade lobbies usually comprise their industry’s leaders. Their advice normally amounts to tightening up on their smaller competitors, leaving themselves stronger than ever.I recall one Transport Minister announcing the new lorry weights to the House of Commons. He explained as so many were flouting the law, rather than enforce it, it was better to change it so the authorities could fit in with the lawbreakers.
British Medical Association
We currently have a chaotic system of alcohol regulation. Local councils, the Police and the magistrates all claim control of licensing in their area. It is a system as ineffective as the Bank regulation reforms introduced in 1997 by the failed then Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown.The British Medical Association questioned the government’s failure to increase tax on alcohol as a demonstration of its lack of commitment to promote good health.
Until the Government of Great Britain develops a sense of moral value, the alcohol trafficker will enrich himself unchecked regardless of the damage his product does.
An article in the Guardian newspaper (21/1/10) reported an alcohol advertising campaign targeting 15 and 16 year olds.
This, of course makes sense. If one’s product is killing 173 people a week, one needs replacement customers in order to become tomorrow’s addicts. Where better to look than the school playground?
Here at least, the potential young addicts have healthy bodies. For now, that is.