Monday, 7 March 2011

Turning drinkers into social lepers

Excellent article here by Tim Black on the growing campaign to “denormalise” alcohol, of which the demand to confine alcoholic drinks to separate sections of shops is just one small part.

The specific demand – to have separate alcohol areas in supermarkets – is as petty as it is predictable, coming as it does from a group of the professionally Concerned. But the general thrust behind the demand should not be so easily dismissed. That is, a state-backed coalition of the aloof seems intent on ‘denormalising’ alcohol. The means are many, from implementing a minimum price for alcohol to demanding that twentysomethings prove their age, but the end is the same: they want drinking and drinkers stigmatised. They want the consumption of alcohol to be looked upon not as ‘the natural accompaniment to a relaxing meal’, but as an activity as shameful and embarrassing as, well, smoking.
Many of the individual measures may, taken alone, not seem unreasonable, but the cumulative effect is to make alcohol much less of a “normal” part of everyday life. And, of course, as he points out, the template was taken from the campaign against smoking. What happened to smokers yesterday will be happening to drinkers tomorrow.
Just as smoking has been rendered socially abhorrent, so drinking seems to be undergoing a similar assault. Every mean-spirited measure, every report highlighting how much alcohol consumption costs the NHS, every single story hacked out of the cliché of binge-drinking Britain, serves to make the rather mundane act of drinking alcohol that little bit less acceptable, that little bit less normal. We are to be shamed into changing our boozy ways.


  1. The naughty queue for alcohol is just around the corner, as is the product being hidden behind shutters or under the counter.

    Can I say 'I told you so' yet? ;)

  2. I've just got back from a long weekend in Belgium where the situation is so different. They celebrate their beer heritage and beer drinking is still considered a normal part of life. A few years ago there was a call to remove carbonated soft drinks from school vending machines in Belgium and replace them with low gravity table beer on the grounds that the beer was a healthier product.

  3. A look at will show how serious the situation is.

    It appears that, as in the case of 'tobacco interests', drinks manufacturers/ retailers etc. are to be excluded from discussion.

  4. Mudge, you didn't come down in the last shower - you must remember that having a separate section for booze in supermarkets was the norm until very recently. Slabs of lager by the checkout are about as traditional as all-day opening - we got by fine without them, and drank more beer.

  5. Drinkers becoming Lepers ???
    Come and join the smokers we've
    had 3 1/2 years in the isolation
    yards ,no use bleating now,you left
    the barn doors open,now sniff the

    You aint seen nothing yet

    The Pubs Nemesis

  6. @Phil - as I said, some of the individual measures may not seem unreasonable, and yes we did drink more beer when we had afternoon closing and supermarkets, if they sold alcohol at all, had it in a separate section. But for the neo-Pros, it's all about "direction of travel". Each measure, however innocent taken in isolation, may seem utterly innocuous, but it is another small chip in the edifice. Ultimately, it's really about changing social attitudes.

  7. In our Morrison's the beers wine and spirits section has it's own section with separate tills. I thought this used to be more common?

  8. From Dave Atherton

    I see the real ale CAMRA devotees are extraordinarily quite on this posting.

    As Dick Puddlecote said 'can we say we told you so yet? Or as a smoker can I indulge in an orgy of schadenfreude?

  9. As a smoker, can I just say 'I don't care'?

    I'm already denormalised. They can denormalise drinking, red meat, salt, fat, anything. As one of the already denormalised, I see no reason to comply with any of it.

    A married friend once said "Once you get to the point where nothing you can do is right, it really doesn't matter what you do any more. So you can do as you please and it makes no difference."

    This is where smokers are now. Like that man's wife, nothing we do will ever please these Puritans so let's not even bother to try pleasing them.

    Let them rage. They will anyway.

  10. Mark - it used to be universal. And they'd sell a far smaller range of beer, and they wouldn't run price promotions, and you could only buy it during licensing hours (remember licensing hours?). I'm not in favour of going back to those days, just saying that we all survived (as did the British brewing industry). And if they're going to turn alcohol into a 'problem', frankly I'd rather they attack it head-on than by demonising "binge drinkers" a la Portman.

  11. I agree and what is the response of the pub industry and main consumer group for drinkers?

    To hawk a line that alcohol is so dangerous adults require supervision in a responsible and controlled environment to consume it.

  12. In Australia apparently they have to sell alcoholic drinks in separate stand-alone shops. So the result is that each supermarket has an off-licence next door as part of the same building, run by the same company. In what way is that going to reduce alcohol consumption? Indeed it could make it even easier to buy as you no longer have to traipse past endless aisles filled with fruit and veg and nappies to reach the drinks section, which currently is often at the far end from the door.

  13. The smokers kiosk in supermarkets doesn't work to denormalise fags. Not while the till sells newspapers, lottery tickets, 10 items or less, sandwiches & salad meal deals & chewing gum. I gather many smokers would like a fags only kiosk. I'd like a cheap lout only section & till, no more queuing behind grocery shoppers!

  14. I actually really like the fact my local morrisons has a seperate drinks area. It means the layout doesnt have to stick to the format of big long aisles. Instead they have shorter aisles and more specific sections, with craft american/belgian/german etc beers grouped together, macro lagers grouped together, premium canned ales grouped together, and a big section with all the premium bottle ales.

    Interestingly brewdog sits on the shelf next to sierra nevada in the world beers section, not the uk bottled ale/beer section.... make of that what you will

  15. Are we talking here just about a discrete section of the general supermarket, or a completely separate area for alcohol with its own tills? I can't say I've seen the latter in any supermarket for the past 25 years.

    And yes, Morrisons do put BrewDog with world beers, as it is Sierra Nevada and Duvel that are their direct comparators, not Abbot and Bombardier. In general I think Morrisons beer section is much more logically arranged than any of the other major supermarkets.

  16. the latter. It has it's own section with seperate tills. It's the Merrion Centre Morrisons in Leeds. Admittedly it is a very old morrisons!

    But I must admit I like it!

    The other morrisons in leeds on kirkstall road has its own setcion within the normal supermarket aisles with no sperate tills.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval. See here for details of my comment policy.