When asked what is the most addictive and destructive drug in circulation today, most people would put heroin or crack cocaine at the top of their list. In reality, it is alcohol, freely available, and the more so since the Licensing Act 2003 came into force.
You may remember the controversy surrounding the Act, which brought the prospect of 24 hour drinking to tippling millions. The thinking behind the Act, as outlined by the government, was twofold: firstly, or so it was argued, abolishing licensing hours would persuade drinkers to ‘pace’ themselves when drinking in public, and secondly, it would avoid the dangers associated with bladdered drinkers being ‘tipped out’ onto the street, all at the same time, and looking for alcohol fuelled trouble. On both counts, the Act has failed miserably. Alcohol is responsible for more violence, in the street and in the home, more diseases, more lost days at work, and a greater drain on the precious resources of the NHS and the emergency services, than all the so-called hard drugs put together. And sadly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as alcohol remains freely available, not just in pubs and clubs, but in every supermarket and corner shop in the country. Half hearted attempts are made to persuade retailers not to sell to under age kids, but profit is profit regardless of who’s paying.
And not content with drinking and driving, the Brits are now drinking and flying. Incidents of drunken behaviour on planes have increased by 30% over the past year alone.
As Boris Johnson will tell you, it all started with Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine, and Bacchus, his Roman counterpart. Both were credited with inspiring ritual madness and ecstasy through wine, freeing the drinker from his normal self by releasing his inhibitions. Not much has changed in the intervening two thousand years.
And now word reaches me from across the Channel that binge drinking, thought until recently to be the sole preserve of the British, is now afflicting our French adolescent cousins. Le Binge-Drinking est arrivé! As an aside, it has always struck me as strange that when raising a glass of alcohol, the French say bonne santé, as if drinking and good health are synonymous, and as Boris Johnson will tell you, ‘cheers’ comes from the French bonne chère, meaning good demeanour! Surely a better epithet would be à la mort lent. I knew you’d be interested.
So what’s to be done, here and abroad? It’s tempting to blame it all on Gary Glitter, but you can’t blame him for everything. The Licensing Act should be repealed, with rigorously enforced and much shorter opening hours for pubs and clubs. Licensees must take greater responsibility for their clientele and stop serving alcohol to inebriates, preferably before they become inebriated. If they don’t, they should be closed down and prosecuted. Happy hours and all you can drink for a fiver should also be abolished. The tax on alcohol should be doubled overnight. After all, the government are pleading poverty and empty coffers, so what better way to fill them? And those who have budgeted for twelve pints of mine host’s Old Peculiar will find they can only afford six.
The specific gravity of popular beverages should be reduced dramatically. Get rid of ‘extra strong’ lagers and beers. Old and
All this may be a drop in the ocean, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Short of prohibition, it has to be worth a try!