Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Not Drunk, Just Confused

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian takes a long hard look at drinking habits in the UK, from her front room window by all accounts, and decides that the answer is raising tax on alcohol:
Only one weapon really works in reducing the dangerous quantities people drink - and that's price. The proposed £5m public health warning campaign will have small effect compared with a sharp tax rise. Alcohol consumption has risen with wealth: it dips in times of recession and it falls when steeply taxed.

An idea that would allow the poor as well as the rich to drink as much as they'd like. The thinking, I suppose, is that a fall in consumption happens equally across the board and so binge-drinking would fall too. Or, well, people will forgo the odd pint during the week and binge just as much as before at the weekend, thus making UK drinking culture even more binge related and the hope of a more relaxed attitude just that little bit less realistic.

Really, though, Ms Toynbee must have had a few cocktails before writing her article because the rest of the reasoning in it is equally sloppy:
The hope was that staggered closing times would stop drinkers staggering out of pubs at the same time, but it seems pubs will still close together, if later: maybe some will take last buses before last orders.

The assumption here is that everyone will start drinking at 7 or 8 like before and then continue on until 2 in the morning because, well, now there's nothing to stop them. Or people might start drinking later and stop when they've had enough rather than when they're thrown out instead of getting as much in in the 3 or 4 hours that they have, realising that wasn't enough and all trying to cram in to the nearest nightclub. Maybe I just have rose-tinted beer goggles.

Essentially, by relaxing the drinking hours in the UK you are giving people a little more choice. The problem is that, unfortunately, at first that choice probably will be abused, people will start at 7 and drink on through to 2 at the rate they were used to before and problems caused by alcohol will be exacerbated. It is a change and change takes some getting used to. Eventually though — optimistically I'd say a couple of months — people will find their own rhythm within the extra hours they have and the hoped for effect of people not all leaving pubs at the same time will happen and people will drink at a pace that more suits them rather than the law.

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