I started this nonsense what seems like many moons ago because I disagreed with what was and remains the consensus within the beer blogs and beer writing in general that I had been consuming. Namely that mainstream beers were of a poor quality and the people that consumed them were undiscerning mugs and most significantly that the prices of such products were way too cheap and needed to be increased to save the health of the nation, reduce anti social behaviour, save pubs or simply because those proposing such measures didn’t like the products they hoped would be affected. I thus decided to start my own account of buying a cheap box of lager, enjoying it more than I in all honesty expected to do, and not behaving in any manner troublesome to you other than I wasn’t sat in a pub whilst I drank my lager.
Fellow beer blogger Mudge has a theme to his blog, and arguably articulates his views in more adult and less puerile manner than myself, and that theme is clearly the smoking ban. I don’t wish to alter the theme of this blog nor intrude on another’s but I occasionally find myself in agreement, occasionally in disagreement, with dear old Mudge.
I agree that the anti alcohol lobby that clearly wish to introduce prohibition by stealth are using the techniques and models of anti smoking health campaigners.
My view is that drinking, unlike smoking, is a healthy and normal activity. Smoking causes cancer. I know of no serious commentator that would argue with that fact. Whilst it remains legal, it is damaging to the health of the nation. The techniques used to reduce and eventually abolish smoking appear to be one of advertising it’s dangers, banning the advertising of the product, taxing the product at a level to discourage use and restricting the ability to smoke in public places. By denormalising smoking and making it a troublesome activity to pursue, an activity no one really in their right mind would choose to do, the intention is to effectively eliminate the habit. A goal it is impossible to argue isn’t an admirable goal. If you were to invent smoking today it would be an illegal product.
If we take a hypothetical example of a factory producing arsenic sweets for children and the sudden medical discovery that arsenic was poison, you could make no serious argument for not banning arsenic sweets. The job losses and economic cost of closing the factory is not a good enough reason to accept the selling of a known poison. The metaphor being that closed pubs is an acceptable cost for the denormalisation of smoking. Lament the loss of pubs by all means, lament many becoming cheap restaurants, but the cost of eliminating smoking is an acceptable one.
Freedom of choice and liberty is often used as an argument but it is only recently that our society has become fragmented enough to allow this argument. Man has always been a tribal species and lived within the boundaries of the tribe, whether that is the rules of religion, law or social acceptability. Human kind and the individual within has never been entirely free, and there have always been behaviours frowned upon. One cannot make the argument that society is becoming less free because smoking is frowned upon when behaviours previously unacceptable like homosexuality, having children out of wedlock and/or without a partner or even wearing trainers in a posh restaurant becomes acceptable. Society is no more or less free; it is just that the boundaries of acceptability alter over time. A free society of the libertarian is a dangerous and worrying society lacking the conventions that make our daily inter dependant existence acceptable. If someone is free to blow smoke in my face you might also accept they are free to defecate upon my shoes. I love my trendy trainers as much as you love your sandals.
Alcohol minimum pricing is one of the features of denormalising alcohol and is akin to the high tax placed on smoking. No one really believes 50p per unit will have any discernable effect on consumption or behaviour. However it begins the model placed on smoking and allows for future increases. Those increases are likely to be an accelerator above inflation and gradually the price of a can of lager will creep up and up. It’s immediate effect negligible, its effect 20 years down the line one of very expensive booze and declining numbers of boozers.
In my observation most smokers wish to quit because of the high price of tobacco and know how much a money they would have in their pocket each month if they quit. A minimum price of alcohol is the start of a process that we can observe today if we look at the price of a packet of cigarettes. It is not a habit anyone in their right mind would start. If we look at the difficulties of smoking, standing out in the rain at your place of work or when out for a drink you have to question why anyone would do it.
The denormalisation of drinking isn’t in my view a theoretical conspiracy, but an observable fact. In most places of work it is unacceptable to go for a lunchtime pint. Most people would not tell their boss they went out for a drink in the evening lest they be thought of negatively as a boozer. Most of the media coverage regarding alcohol is by and large negative and highlights the many social and individual costs of drinking. This is not to say those costs do not exist but appear out of proportion to their occurrence. The denormalisation of drinking is well underway and to support minimum pricing is to support one of its foundations, a strategy taken from the denormalisation of smoking.
You may believe there is no serious and immediate threat to your drinking habits. In a society where the majority of people like a tipple of some form you would be correct. Twenty years from now, when the denormalisation of alcohol has made far more progress, when a can of lager is as relatively expensive as a packet of cigarettes, when a minority of people drink. Will you be able to say then that there is no serious and immediate threat to your drinking habits?