When will they realise? Pubs are not the problem

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Related tags: Chief medical officer, Alcoholic beverage

Perhaps, like Shambo the bullock, the kindest thing would be for the Government to put a bullet in the head of the entire pub trade. When both the...

Perhaps, like Shambo the bullock, the kindest thing would be for the Government to put a bullet in the head of the entire pub trade. When both the country's Chief Medical Officer and the Prime Minister call for a review of the licensing laws, you have to wonder whether the game is worth the candle.

In the past couple of years licensees and pub owners have spent a fortune filling in a shed-load of paper in preparation for the new Licensing Act. This was followed, in short order, by the smoking ban, which has required brewers and pub companies to invest further millions in covered outdoor areas for smokers.

The result? On the basis of one report and some dodgy statistics, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, has called for both a hike in alcohol prices and a review of licensing law. He'd hardly paused for breath when Gordon Brown had jumped on to a fast-rolling bandwagon and announced there will be a long, hard look at the workings of the new law.

As the editor said in his column last week, overall alcohol-related crime is down. Yet raging headlines resulted from the findings of just one London hospital trust, Guy's & St Thomas's, which reported a rise in alcohol-fuelled violence late at night.

Being of sound mind but nervous disposition, I haven't read the Daily Mail's coverage of this report. But I have heard sonorous voices on the BBC pontificating about the evil effects of what the Beeb still insists on calling "24-hour drinking".

There's no such thing, but don't let the truth get in the way of a good headline. Lost in the cacophony of nonsense pouring from the media were the wise words of one senior London police officer, who said it was wrong to base a case on a report from just one hospital trust, which was not necessarily typical of the rest of London, let alone the whole country.

The question nobody has asked is: how do doctors at these hospitals know that the victims of violence in the wee small hours have been connected to pubs?

As the editor wrote last week, and as this paper has said for months, while all the attention is on pubs, the supermarkets get away scot-free. The media, for some reason, never report that the giant multiples sell drink at giveaway prices.

Beer is cheaper than bottled water in the multiples. My son, aged 18, en route to a party, bought 10 bottles of 5% abv French lager for less than a fiver. Under my stern tutelage, he won't get drunk, but many, offered such cheap booze, will.

An increase in alcohol prices will penalise the majority who handle drink sensibly and moderately. And it will not tackle the problem of a small minority of people drinking to excess.

There were wise words on TV last week from Keith Halliwell, the former government-appointed "drugs tsar", who resigned in disgust when the Blair government reneged on his proposals. At the heart of the proposals was a programme of education in schools to warn of the dangers of hard drugs and to discuss both the pleasures and pitfalls of consuming alcohol.

I have been making the same point for years in these pages. While the French and the Italians prepare young people to understand and enjoy alcohol, the British do nothing. We tell them pubs are off-limits until they are 18, and are astonished when they get falling-down drunk.

Restrictions and price increases will not solve the problems of alcohol abuse among young people. They need help and advice, which can come only from education. They won't be deterred by 3p on the price of a pint. That is the message for Sir Liam and Gordon Brown, who must grasp the fact that the pub is not the problem.


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