Thursday, 8 September 2011

Opposite effect

Alcohol Concern’s recent weasel words in support of pubs have highlighted again the claim that, in contrast to drinking at home, pubs provide a “controlled drinking environment”. Now, that’s another argument, but it’s worth saying it’s one I can’t remember ever hearing until ten or twelve years ago when pubs were already clearly losing substantial market share to the off-trade. Thirty years ago, those who got drunk overwhelmingly did so in pubs and clubs.

However, the stigmatisation of drinking promoted by the likes of Alcohol Concern is ironically likely to result in exactly the opposite of what they claim to want. The more that alcohol consumption becomes socially unacceptable, the less people are going to do it in the public sphere where it is obvious to others, and the more it will retreat into the home. I have mentioned before how a significant change in the pub scene over the past twenty years is how the solid middle classes are much less likely to drink in pubs than they used to be. Yet in how many comfortable homes is the question frequently asked “shall we crack open a second bottle of wine tonight?”, often by people who would consider going to the pub and drinking five pints of bitter distinctly disreputable.

Realistically, it is going to take a huge weight of public policy initiatives to bring about much reduction in British alcohol consumption over and above that which happens naturally from social change. Finland, which has some of the most draconian alcohol control laws in Europe, and even higher duties than the UK, still drinks only 17% less than we do on official figures, and only 6% less once unofficial sources are taken into account. But that drinking will increasingly be done out of the public gaze.


  1. I'm reminded of the Methodist ladies who came into our shop for their draught British sherry. They obviously despised pubs and drinkers but they were our best customers!!

  2. As Chris Snowdon points out here, it is only recently that the anti-drink lobby have targeted at-home drinking. probably because it has become much more popular. In the past, it was always pubs that were the enemy, and drinking at home was the lesser of two evils.

    Pubs were seen as somewhere that the prevailing culture encouraged excessive drinking. They were "dens of iniquity". This was especially the case in Scotland.

  3. Perhaps Alcohol Concern is waking up to the fact that all they are achieving is brushing the problem (as they see it) under the carpet, but their new support for community pubs shows that they don't understand them at all.

    Their emphasis on lower strengths and smaller measures confirms they are obsessed with alcohol, but if that's all pub drinkers were interested in, they would show no discernment and go only for whatever drink had the best price to strength ratio. That this isn't the case is obvious to anyone who knows pubs.

    It's funny to think that Don Shenker and his cronies are more obsessed with alcohol than the drinkers he looks down on.

  4. I can think of no greater reason to avoid a pub that calling it a "responsible and controlled environment". How much more fun staying in appears. "A free to do what you like environment"

  5. I know Cooking Lager's taking the mick, but what he describes will be precisely the consequence if Don Shenker's ideas of what a pub should be like ever takes hold.


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