By Joe Young – Deputy Culture Editor
Recently, the drinking guidelines for an adult male has been lowered to 14 units – the same as it is for a woman. Now, I understand that this is to “protect health” but is the Government really trying to do that, or are they just trying to make palatable soundbites that they can throw about come election season?
England has an obesity crisis far worse than the effects of alcohol – you don’t see the Chief Medical Officer telling people to limit themselves to one cheesecake a week. Obesity costs the NHS £5.1bn a year, with alcohol only costing £3.6bn. But, apparently alcohol is the danger to society.
I’m not suggesting there should be a minimum unit price for alcohol, or anything like that. That would just hurt the poorest people. A man who makes £45,000 a year will see a rise of £1.50 in the price of a bottle of wine as nothing, but to the family who scrape to make ends meet – having to find that extra £1.50 so they can have a glass of wine on Valentine’s Day might be a step too far.
It’s a tough cookie to discuss, but at the end of the day it boils down to one question. Do we want the government to have the ability to police what we do? As a liberal, I don’t think they should police what we do. The answer lies in education. As it stands, alcohol is glorified. Huge numbers of people see their eighteenth birthday as a reason to drink themselves into an alcohol-induced stupor and then continue to do it on a regular basis until either they find a full-time job, get married, or die – whichever comes first.
Perhaps we should be letting people make their own mistakes? Growing up, my parents always let me try alcohol. On the old glass tankards my Dad had with “windows”, he would let us drink one “window” down the glass, which was about 100ml. Before you start screaming “irresponsible parenting” it seems to have done its job. Aside from a couple of extremely large blowouts, it’s very rare I drink now. When I do, it’ll either be at a party, or a glass of wine and a Jägerbomb when I’m extremely stressed. But, because of this freedom as a child, in a typical week, I don’t drink at all. I grew up knowing what it was like, so it’s a perfectly normal thing.
Currently we have a mess of alcohol laws, where it changes depending on the constituent country of the UK. In England and Wales, nobody under five years of age can drink alcohol unless under medical supervision or in an emergency, but you can drink from five years of age as long as you’re not on a licensed premises. You can drink beer, wine, or cider at 16 on a licensed premises with a meal, and you can also buy liqueur chocolates. Perhaps, and just perhaps, this mess is actually going to be our saving grace.
If a child is curious, let them try alcohol. Let them have a glass of cider with a meal. Let them have liqueur chocolates. Perhaps teaching a child that alcohol is a normal thing and something people drink, will be far more effective than branding it in their minds as “special magic grownup juice”. If you make something inaccessible and desirable, it’ll only make people want it more.
It’s time for an alcohol revolution – if anybody should police consumption of alcohol, it should be the individual and not the government. Let’s give educating people a try and see if that makes a difference first.