The headlines this morning broke the news that there is proposed legislation to prohibit drinking for pregnant mothers and raise the tax on alcohol. This in the same week that new medical guidelines advised no consumption of alcohol before the age of 15. The reasons for this legislation: the negative social and medical implications of binge drinking. I cannot think of a more idiotic way to tackle the problem.
The medical guidelines advising people under 15 not to drink are perhaps the pinnacle of this nanny state lunacy. Citing health concerns, the authorities are essentially suggesting that children grow up in a society where alcohol is ubiquitous without any understanding of the drug. At 15, at the height of their rebellious period, they are told that alcohol consumption is now allowed, although they cannot purchase it, and so introduced to the vice that has been a tantalising taboo throughout their childhood. With no parental grounding to fall back on, they are expected to give the drug the respect it deserves?
What is more, these guidelines provide no help in the area in which they are designed to work – childhood alcohol abuse. The only people that are going to heed the advice of the new warnings are concerned parents, the very parents that should be helping to introduce their children to the adult world. Molly coddling them is only going to increase the chance that they are going to experiment with alcohol with their peers, where these guidelines are going to be ignored.
I believe the main reason alcohol is so abused in this country is the fact that it is unattainable, that it is so associated with the excess of a night out that it becomes synonymous with binge drinking. By levying ludicrous taxes on alcohol, the government is essentially helping to create the conditions for binge drinking – people cannot afford to drink every night, so save their money for one big splurge at the end of the week. The fact that throughout childhood, alcohol has been the mysterious elixir to which parents party, and that until their 18th birthday they cannot participate in this rite, means that when young adults have the chance they like to partake – alcohol is after all a great way to spend an evening – if it wasn't, it wouldn't be so popular.
So how can we escape the cycle of knee-jerk politics, and ill thought out legislation? I would advise taking a leaf out of the European book of laws – Allowing alcohol to be available cheaply and with little legislation, promoting sensible drinking with food and the relaxed culture that goes along with it. Alcohol should be extricated from the stereotype of excess, re-labeled as something to savour. I would go as far as saying that the age restrictions on pubs and bars should be removed, as long as a child is with a parent – what better way to be introduced to the world of your parents then experience first hand the place they relax in – perhaps drinking a watered down beer with your father. Promoting the family and friends aspect of alcohol would help remove the stigma of sensible regular alcohol consumption.
Alcohol has been part of our heritage for many centuries – it is a drug and thus must be treated with respect – but has many positive aspects to offer. Perhaps we should reconsider the way we introduce the next generation to it, rather than revisiting the prohibitionary experiments that ended so disastrously.