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The anti-binge drinking campaign needs a ministerial champion, says John Grogan Never has a "My Shout" article of mine had as strong a reaction as...

The anti-binge drinking campaign needs a ministerial champion, says John Grogan

Never has a "My Shout" article of mine had as strong a reaction as the piece published on 2 November 2006 on the subject of the below-cost sale of alcohol. Currently, hardly a day seems to go by without someone pointing to the obvious fact that the real driver of binge-drinking is not the declining number of pints sold in public houses but the cut-price alcohol offers available in the off-trade.

Scottish Licensed Trade Association chief executive Paul Waterson summed up the mood when he said recently that alcohol is "not bread or eggs - it should be sold in a different way". Yet none of this stopped the supermarkets paying for TV adverts over Christmas stressing cheap alcohol promotions.

So what's likely to happen next?

Here are just two reflections for the state of play in January 2007. Firstly, no leading politician has yet sought to make a name for themselves by capturing the issue. The big four supermarkets will really start taking notice when the Home Secretary or the Health Secretary start making observations on their pricing policy. A couple of speeches or remarks from chief constables would really get the ball rolling. Moreover, the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, the Rt Hon John Denham MP, has expressed his interest in the subject to me. A long-time critic of some of the impacts of the night-time economy, he recognises that pubs and clubs have gone some way at least towards dealing with his concerns. He explicitly told me that the off-trade still has many questions to answer regarding its pricing and promotions.

It really is a matter of plugging away at this issue until one day, possibly in the near future, it becomes the subject of a question to the Prime Minister.

Secondly, there is a need to be explicit about the objectives of the campaign, which certainly do not include politicians fixing the price of beer.

During the debate on minimum pricing, some of the pensioners in my constituency became quite worried that their local Sam Smith's pub would be required to raise its very competitive prices.

Equally, they are now expressing concern that they will no longer be able to afford the pleasure of buying four cans from the off-licence at the weekend to enjoy drinking during Match of the Day and over their Sunday lunch.

To attract the support of The Sun and The Mirror and not just The Daily Mail, it has to be made crystal-clear that we want to see irresponsible pricing and promotions outlawed, not affordable alcohol.

There is a world of difference. Just ask Morrisons, who have the distinction of being the first retailer to admit using loss-leader pricing.

Ultimately, one of our immediate objectives should be no less than to change the whole tone and nature of supermarket advertising and promotion of alcohol in the run-up to Christmas 2007.

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