Under the influence


The British Medical Association (BAM) has been slamming one of our nation’s favourite pastimes in its new publication “Under the Influence". It has claimed that as over 1/3 of adults regularly exceed the government’s alcohol consumption guidelines “the rising cost [of drinking] – socially, economically and to our health services – really is unacceptable".

The BMA believe that “reducing alcohol-related harm in the UK requires a comprehensive strategy that….seeks to remove or mitigate the unhealthy and unhelpful influences on behaviour". In essence, that UK citizens should be regulated in what they are exposed to, in order to condition their own thinking and desires. Their solution is a blanket ban on the advertisement of alcohol. The BMA claims that alcohol advertising attempts to cast drinking as an essential activity, particularly drawing attention to the sponsorship of music festivals and premiership football by big brands. However, as the Portman Group patiently explained, evidence suggests that advertising encourages brand switching and loyalty, not the abuse of alcohol.

The BMA not only want to control what can be shown to us, but to meddle in market mechanisms, through the instigation of a minimum price for alcohol. Their report states that ASBOs should “not be slapped on the vomiting teenagers, they should be slapped on the irresponsible marketers" – suggesting that companies should be held responsible for the actions of the consumer. Another authoritarian suggestion of theirs is to limit the density of on and off-licensed premises within an area. If people already have enough places in which to drink, then a proposed business will fail. If they do not, why should an entrepreneur be denied a place in the market?

The UK has been a nation of drinkers for thousands of years. No association (or government) should hope to change a society’s habits by telling them what they should and should not do and by restricting an adult’s exposure to a ‘harmful substance’ (just look at the failed ‘war on drugs’). Real social change can only come about when individuals themselves adopt a new attitude to drinking. The best way for this to occur is through the unbiased education about the costs and dangers of alcohol, which people can choose to weigh up against the satisfaction they derive from drinking a pint (or six.)

Let’s just hope that those in Parliament haven’t had enough subsidised pints to think that the BMA’s measure might work too.