Balance is required for a healthy debate on alcohol

By Mike Benner

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Moderate alcohol consumption, Alcoholic beverage

Mike Benner: "Having a beer in your local is a good thing all round"
Mike Benner: "Having a beer in your local is a good thing all round"
The Government’s plans to ban the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT finally take effect at the end of this month. While the move does not go nearly as far as many would have liked, it is an indication, at least, that the Government is making a stand against cheap alcohol.

Defining below-cost selling as duty plus VAT won’t, of course, make much difference to prices in supermarkets but that, together with the second consecutive cut in beer duty announced in March, does mean the price gap between pubs and supermarkets should start to narrow, which in my view is a good thing.

It’s good because it will help to protect jobs in a great British industry, and it will encourage more people to use pubs.

It’s also good as it will help nudge people to use pubs more. You may have noted that the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has highlighted the positive aspects to health and wellbeing of drinking responsibly and sociably — especially real ale.


CAMRA members at last year’s AGM voted that a more balanced view opposing the health lobby was needed to ensure people were aware of the benefits of moderate drinking and could make decisions based on a more balanced presentation of the facts.

CAMRA chairman Colin Valentine spoke out in January against initiatives such as ‘dry January’ and presented evidence that moderate drinking is good for the heart and that moderate drinkers live longer than those who don’t drink. It’s not the case that taking a month off from drinking will protect you from harm associated with excessive drinking for the rest of the year.

This was followed in April by the news that five times more people think drinking wine is better for you than beer.

Professor Charles Bamforth, of the University of California, said the benefit to health comes from moderate alcohol consumption, so wine is actually no better or worse for you than beer.


The plus points of beer don’t end here — it is linked to drinking in pubs more so than wine. Well-run pubs are not just community hubs where adults enjoy alcohol responsibly and sociably, they also promote social cohesion and the benefits to personal wellbeing that stem from that.

While studies exist to show a link between the wellbeing of communities and getting together in the local, it’s harder to show the impact on people’s wellbeing and the health benefits of socialising in the local.

Like policies to cut the price gap between supermarkets and pubs, this is a matter of common sense — something that is lacking in the alcohol and health debate.

It’s time it was recognised, by those keen to cut our drink intake, that having a beer in your local is a good thing all round.

Mike Benner is chief executive of CAMRA. He takes over as managing director of SIBA next month.

Related topics: Legislation

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