Monday, March 24, 2008

Out of sight out of mind?

Britain's lop-sided relationship with fags & booze

By the look of it, Brown & co are desperate to grab headlines and be seen that they're busy tinkering with stuff. Whereas the smoking ban made some sense (and more or less put Britain in line with the rest of the Western world), the new proposals to remove tobacco from public display in shops are simply delusional.

Who exactly walks past the lottery counter at Sainsbury's and ends up lovestruck by the enticing design of the fag packets at the back? It may happen that fat kids spot a Chocolate Orange along the aisle and dream of stuffing their face but, though my social bearings are extremely limited, I don't know a single person who took up smoking that way. Stay tuned and at this pace tobacco will be labelled a 'Class A' drug before you know. Soon children will be up against a new taboo subject. They'll ask their dads where that smoking stuff they light up comes from and the answer will be it was the stork that brought it in.

Now, this is all very well. If you still ignore the risks tobacco carries and the strain it puts on the NHS, chances are you're the kind that buys into Donald Rumsfeld when he talks about exporting democracy.

The problem is the UK Government's massive double standards. As they're driven by the belief tobacco is bad for your health, they're following the logical line that it should be more complicated and expensive to take up smoking.

But look at what they did with alcohol. Each week a new scientific study comes out that warns of the increasing link between booze and street fighting, booze and the strain on the police forces, domestic violence, street vomiting, splattered livers, the rise of STDs and the rest. So what does the government do?

It makes it possible for alcohol to be available 24 hours a day. As alcohol prices keep going down, any ordinary resident of Britain is bamboozled with 3-for-1 booze offers. Britain's become the country where you're better off knocking back pints and double shots than spending the night sipping soft drinks (hence the Lib Dem's Vince Cable's recent proposal to raise tax on alcohol and use the extra-revenue to slash duty on fruit juice and other healthy drinks). If you have any, ask your teetotal friend if she's happy to shell out two quid for that microscopic bottle of Britvic.

Now, they may tell you that it's not true and that only a minority of pubs have applied for extended licensing hours. Well, I say look at the amount of supermarkets that sprung up in the last 18 months sporting proud "Alcohol Sold 24hrs" signs.

Looking back, clubs shutting at 3am was literally the only factor that could stop a few of my friends from drinking themselves to sleep. I recall the desperation in the eyes some of them, 'Trampy' Adam or others who are to the neck of a bottle what a moth is to a flame. As they kept digging around in my kitchen hoping for a lost can of lager or a half-drunk bottle of wine to somehow materialise ("You don't have any booze in the house do ya?"), they just couldn’t have enough, something that most continental readers would probably not comprehend. As it stands, for all their flaws, old licensing laws -11pm for pubs and 2 or 3am for clubs- saved a few of my mates from liver failure.

Now if you fancy a crate of whisky at 4 in the morning all you have to do is ring one of the many "24-hour dial-a-booze" delivery services or nip over to your local Quicksave and here's to New Labour's Healthy Britain. No danger of anyone stopping 'Trampy' Adam now.

Excellent article on today's Independent Online edition. It's about spoilt children and parents who can't say no and it's written by Nicholas Lezard. Have a read here

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