Howells slams 'crazy' drinks promotions

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Pub companies running "drink as much as you like" promotions have been blasted by licensing minister Dr Kim Howells. Speaking at a select committee...

Pub companies running "drink as much as you like" promotions have been blasted by licensing minister Dr Kim Howells.

Speaking at a select committee meeting on late-night business, Dr Howells called on operators to put a stop to "crazy promotions" which allow customers to buy unlimited drinks for a set price.

These type of promotions have been criticised in the past as many believe they are irresponsible and encourage binge-drinking among the young.

Dr Howells said The Portman Group must do more to enforce its sensible drinking code and he hoped hours proposed in the Licensing Bill would put an end to the habit of young people drinking large amounts of alcohol before closing time.

Mark Hastings, of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), agreed with Dr Howells. He said: "We fully support what Dr Howells is saying and that is why we have published our guidance on running promotions. Clearly as a sector we have to ensure that this guidance is followed.

"No-one is suggesting that flexible hours is a solution to the problem but it removes an artificial barrier to stop people drinking against the clock."

But industry watchdog The Portman Group has spoken out against Dr Howells' comments. A spokesman said: "Dr Howells is right to be concerned about drinking to excess, and The Portman Group's Don't Do Drunk Campaign shows that we share these sentiments.

"But it is the BBPA, rather than ourselves, that provides guidance to the trade as far as retail promotions are concerned.

"Earlier this year, we recommended to Dr Howells that he require licensing authorities to ensure that licensees abide by this guidance, and we have reminded him of this following his comments last week.

"We hope now that he is clear both about the remit of The Portman Group, and about our commitment to challenging the culture of excessive drinking."

Bob Cartwright, communications director of Six Continents, speaking last week at a conference called "Industry Under Threat? Social Responsibility and Self-Regulation", also voiced concerns about these type of promotions.

Mr Cartwright announced at the conference, organised by Alcohol in Moderation and the Wine and Spirit Association, that he was anxious the minority of operators running irresponsible promotions would be to the detriment of the pub trade.

"Some major operators are running some irresponsible promotions at the moment.

"Some large companies need to look at what they are doing and stop these promotions."

Companies such as Luminar Leisure have been criticised in the past for conducting these type of promotions but Steve Thomas, chief executive of the bar and club operator has blamed pubs for encouraging people to "speed drink", claiming they turn up to his nightclubs intoxicated.

He said: "De-regulation is a great thing. The reason nightclubs have a bad reputation is because people speed drink in pubs and then turn up at our door at 11pm. We are constantly sweeping up pubs' problems."

Binge-drinking a social issue

Binge-drinking is a social issue not one for regulation, according to Dr Thomas Stuttaford, medical correspondent of The Times.

Speaking at a conference on social responsibility this week he argued that regulating the licensed trade was not the right way to tackle the problems surrounding binge-drinking and underage drinking.

"People are influenced by peer pressure. Men go out to score and get off with women. No self-regulation or government regulations are going to get rid of those issues," he said.

Related topics: Legislation

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