|Alcohol (picture from The Guardian website)|
On BBC news this morning, Victoria White, a recovering alcoholic, was speaking on air about her lifelong battle with alcohol and her near death experience on a hospital bed. She agreed to be interviewed during her treatment for a failing liver for the BBC documentary, Panorama (due to air today at 20.30 BST). She was filmed explaining her pain and agony and why others should learn from her bitter experience with alcohol. Victoria started drinking at age 13 (now 35), she was previously admitted 5years ago when she nearly died and doctors advised her to stop drinking. She stopped for a few years afterwards but gradually descended into the addiction once again and was then admitted for liver failure.
Britain's romance with alcohol goes a long way back in its history, famous for its pubs in the middle ages, the working class will often indulge in excessive drinking causing social disorder and violent fights. But the majority drank to relax and release stress after a long hard day's work. The story is still true today, most people are neither alcoholics nor binge drinkers, but an increasing minority are drinking to excess and costing the NHS (National Health Service) more than £2billion a year to treat alcohol-related illnesses. This number does not include the cost of treating victims of alcohol-related crime, relationship breakdowns caused by an alcoholic partner, nor the treatment of injured (or killed) individuals by drunk drivers. Putting all these together, the cost of alcohol to the British society is enormous. However, the total value of the UK alcoholic drinks market exceeds £30billion a year, and the total tax receipts to the government from VAT and excise duty on alcoholic drinks is significant even though it continues to fall (just about 5% of UK total tax revenue now comes from alcohol). So there is less and less money going to the government from the sale of alcohol but a sky-rocketing cost to the government-funded NHS. It is obvious why the government is keen to advise people on the dangers of alcohol.
There are currently 9million people affected by alcohol abuse in the UK and it continues to rise. There has been a 50% rise in alcohol-related liver damage and one in four adult people drink above the recommended limits. My surprise in all of these is that whenever the government tries to tackle this problem, a significant number of people raise objections as to why the government has no right to try to regulate the amount of alcohol an individual decides to consume. That it is a form of control that is not wanted in a free society. I recently saw a comment on the website of the newspaper Daily Telegraph in a response to an article on UK's Alcohol Advisory Board http://tgr.ph/pMw3Df, and it sums up this type of rejection of government attempts to advise the population:
"No one (apart from some very few oddities) like anyone, least of all the state, telling us what and how much to partake of anything that might be harmful in excess. The vast majority drink responsibly. This is another fascist style of thinking that poor people should be protected from their own misery (alcoholism and wife abuse etc etc), by people who consider themselves to be their holy protectors and avengers - against the rich (who can afford the stuff - damn their eyes) for whom they would like to tax anything that gives them pleasure. They are the latter day Puritans. I loath them"
From this comment you can see the resistance from the individual to any form of state advice. But my answer to him will be that, if the "poor" can afford their own health treatments (due to alcohol consumption) and not shift the burden unto the taxpayer, then that will be just fine to ignore any government advice. But if the rest of us are going to have to pay for someone's excessive indulgence, then I think the government has the right to say "look, can you limit the amount of alcohol you take so that you can remain healthy, so we wont have to pick up the pieces of a lifestyle you chose, hence save some money to put to better use". Isn't prevention better than cure? Why do people fight for a right to self-destruction and rarely for self-development?
|Some studies have now shown women are drinking |
more than men
The government is currently looking for ways to tackle this problem and there have been calls for an increase in the excise duty on alcoholic drinks (alcohol tax), to discourage supermarkets and pubs from selling alcohol at ridiculously cheap prices, which is currently blamed for the problem. In Britain, many city centers are no-go areas on a weekend as they have been totally taken over by violent drunks and disorderly boozers, who fight, vomit and piss in the street with no shame at all. In fact on a Saturday night, you are a minority in the city centers if you are not drunk. There are plans for legislation to control pub prices on alcohol and opening times. But most of these policies are faced with opposition from the powerful alcohol lobby who now constitute a significant number on the Government and Partners Alcohol working group, meant to be an advisory body on alcohol legislation for the UK government. In fact 7 out of 16 current members of the board are from the alcohol industry. They always come up to say its only a minority of people that drink to excess and it would be unwise to penalize moderate drinkers by an increase in alcohol tax. But my questions are these, a fast growing minority are drinking to excess, should we wait till they constitute a significant majority before steps are taken? Can't the moderate drinkers put up with a little rise (a few pence at most) in price for the overall good of society? Afterall alcohol is not food that is beneficial to your health. The less you have the better.