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15 Feb, 2010 03:36

Curb your alcoholism – new British policy

The British government plans to set a minimum price for alcohol and says bottles and cans must carry health warnings. It's part of an initiative to restrain binge drinking, which has been spiraling out of control.

Critics claim those who use alcohol responsibly will be hardest hit, not the heavy drinkers.

The young and the young at heart, going out on the town, many with the deliberate intention of getting drunk, became a common sight on the streets of British towns, large and small.

Ben McDonald, manager of “The Crown and Goose”, says that Camden is notorious for pub crawls.

“It’s got quite a lot of youths drinking on the streets, also, so that’s more the area that I would see as binge drinking – I see a lot of kids on street corners… drinking alcopops,” McDonalds states.

Binge drinking has become such a big part of the UK’s culture that the government plans to fight during this year’s election with proposals to cut alcohol abuse. They will involve tougher warnings on labels and setting minimum pricing for alcohol.

Pub and bar owners are likely to welcome the move – not necessarily because it will curb binge drinking, but because it could bring people back into the pubs, where alcohol is pricier. Supermarkets are likely to be hit hardest.

For example, a four pack of strong cider, bought from the supermarket, cost the equivalent of just $4.70. It’s a perfect example of big shops selling alcohol at below cost price to get customers through the door. If minimum pricing becomes a reality, the drink will more than double in cost.

But how hard will that really hit problem drinkers? Supermarkets have come out against the scheme, saying it will unnecessarily penalize responsible consumers and fail to curb the binge drinking culture.

It’s a complete turnaround for a government that previously fought to liberalize drinking laws, including 24-hour bar licenses, which have been blamed for a rise in binging. The distiller, the Portman Group, says minimum pricing is a blunt instrument.
Mike Thompson, Head of Communications and External Affairs, Portman Group, says that problem drinkers are actually the least sensitive to price changes.

“What will happen is this policy would penalize those who are responsible drinkers on low incomes,” Thompson claims. “It will make them pay more and it won’t change the behavior of people who unfortunately go out with the intention of getting drunk. What we need to be doing is focusing our policy on changing the harmful behaviour.”

Something so ingrained in the culture is unlikely to be changed overnight, but most agree that any attempt to curb drinking in the UK is a move in the right direction. And as all good addicts know, the first step towards a cure is admitting you’ve got a problem.