Gordon: get on to the grocers

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Chief medical officer, Drinking culture, Alcoholic beverage

Last week was one of the drinks trade's blackest for a long time. Bad news was heaped upon bad news in the media. And worryingly, the reports were...

Last week was one of the drinks trade's blackest for a long time. Bad news was heaped upon bad news in the media. And worryingly, the reports were not typical Daily Mail garbage, but sober surveys and grave pronouncements from respected figures.

First, the surveys. Alcohol-related violence is up 30% in the small hours of the night, according to Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. Nearly 25% of 15-year-old girls get drunk at least once a week, with boys not far behind. And the number of drunk teenagers admitted to hospital has risen by more than a third in 10 years. It was enough for the UK's Chief Medical Officer to join the chorus of campaigners calling for alcohol taxes to be raised.

Trade leaders must be in despair. Every lever at their disposal has been pulled. Advertising and promotions have been toned down, and underage enforcement stepped up. Doorstaff are on patrol everywhere. Apart from running late-night taxi services themselves, it's hard to know what more can be done.

And frustratingly for the trade, these measures are working. Overall, alcohol-related crime is down, and underage drinking largely banished. "Continental drinking" was never going to arrive overnight, but since the new Licensing Act came in, the foundations have been laid. As a result of the trade's efforts, it's more obvious than ever that heavy youth drinking is all about home and outdoors drinking. And that these are the product of cheap supermarket pricing.

Yet still the off trade's giants shun any responsibility for their actions. Even when the Government's alcohol strategy calls for an enquiry into cheap pricing, the big-six chains cynically continue to flog their drink at below-cost prices.

That enquiry is not due to start until sometime next year - why it need wait so long is not explained - but the pub trade can ill afford the delay.

Action must be stepped up now to shame the grocers. Weekend reports suggest Gordon Brown's attention is being drawn to the supermarket's contribution to "booze Britain". Good. At last we are getting somewhere. Perhaps the PM will ask his Chief Medical Officer to take a walk down the nation's drink aisles to see what's going on.

It would help if the chairman and chief executive of the Drinkaware Trust accompanied him. This silent, anonymous organisation has taken millions from the drinks trade but has failed to engage in the current debate. It's time it shared its views on supermarket pricing. It does have some - doesn't it?

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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