Monday, 11 January 2010

The drinks industry is to blame for our alcohol problems

I started drinking when I was fifteen, in the early 1970s. The first drink I had in a pub was half a pint of mild - a bit embarrassing - when I got to the bar I realised I hadn't enough money for a pint of bitter. In a busy pub I had no difficulty getting served with my long hair and carefully cultivated sideburns. Once the initial nerves of getting served were over with I went into pubs regularly before I was eighteen.

I grew up in Middleton, a northern mill town. People worked hard in factories. On Friday they got their pay packets and went out to have a bloody good time after being cooped up all week. On Friday and Saturday nights they drank copious amounts of beer. There was the odd fight, the odd drunk falling over but guess what? - nobody was bothered about it.  There was no moral panic, no health police, no litigious culture and no paranoia about health and safety. And at that time - Britain had one of the lowest incidences of liver disease in the developed world.

So what has happened since? Well in the eighties the drinks industry started to increase the amount of alcohol in beer and wine. In the seventies people drank something called bitter and not a lot else and the alcohol content was about 3.5%. Now people drink beer - or lager. The varieties have multiplied - which is good - but now beer and lager are 4% or 5% or more. Wine has 14% alcohol when it used to have 9%. The brewers are capitalists, they want to make a profit - so they have a vested interest in getting us drinking more and largely they have succeeded. This is just what the much despised to cigarette makers did. They were castigated for increasing the strength of cigarettes. So have why have the drink's manufacturers got away with it scot free?

We live in a free market society. Making big profits is sacrosanct. The government hasn't the guts or the gumption to challenge the brewers. Much easier to dump the blame on to all of us. This is typical of a capitalist society - blame people for the ills of the market. They saddle you with debt, sell you crap obesity inducing food, try to get you hooked on stronger drinks create a massive social problem and its all your fault. Not theirs. That is the logic of free market capitalism.

I like drinking and I like being in pubs. I think drink has social benefits. It's still as much an escape valve for society as it was in the 1970s. People may now be cooped up in offices and supermarkets instead of factories but they need to escape and let off steam just as much as they ever did. Looking back I really enjoyed those nights. The town came alive. It was 99% good natured, social fun.

People then knew they were working class. They knew they depended on capitalists for a living. Most were trade unionists and were more politically aware than people are nowadays, and they had a political party which represented them. Nowadays, in the bright, shiny free market Uk Plc,  people have fallen for all that middle class guff. They are still as much wage slaves as their parents ever were. They just don't know it.

Anyway, that last paragraph was a bit off piste. The solution to the drinks problem is to compel the drinks industry to supply us with lower alcohol drinks. Every pub should sell at least one beer of 3.5%. The maximum should be restricted to 4.5% in pubs and bars. We need wine with a lower alcohol content. We wouldn't drink less - but we would drink a lot less alcohol.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think that alcohol consumption is a positive social escape?

There are other pursuits that lead to mindfulness and social connection, I'm sure you could embark on them yourself without even a single hit of alcohol.

Perhaps it's part of the trap, damaging the brains of your community, eventually making it impossible for you to think clearly and function outside the treadmill

Howard Thorp said...

Damaging the brains of my community? Are you a teetotaler or a purist? Robespierre was and look what happened.

I can't think of anything more damaging to communities than free market capitalism and the relentless sell by advertising that underpins it all.

I fail to see why drinking should be a problem. Like any other activity it is safe if not taken to access. Drinking too much water will kill you.

Yes there are other 'pursuits' that lead to social connection and I am involved with them.

Please don't remain anonymous or I won't publish any more of your comments.

cheers H

Anonymous said...

The industry is not solely to blame. Part of it, yes, but not all of it. I think the bigger issue is that the government wants us all to pissed to realise - or even care- what's going on
I drink little myself - and don't recognise the description of Middleton in the 70s at all. Maybe I kept to the moors a bit more... the ills of society arise more from social isolation than drink, I think. And with the smoking ban and pub prices, the worst of this is that drinkers are driven almost underground byt drinking in isolation at home. There's not much of a controlling influence eg four friends buying a beer each and then off home. Drinking witn no perceptions of limits is dangerous....and this is what's happening in too many homes now.
But what can we do about it - some young people seem to think it's normal to go out with your buttocks hanging out of your skirt and throwing up in the street abnd moving on to the next bar.... This isn't community spirit, it's literally a community wasted (in every sense of the word)