An estimated 28,000 people will miss the chance to raise their glass to the Queen this Christmas because alcohol killed them prematurely. There are more than 3,000 cases each year with alcohol specified on the death certificate. This figure includes suicides and accidents, and allows for the diseases to which drink is a direct contributory factor, such as some cancers and strokes. Two thirds of suicides are linked to excessive drinking.
The repost to this roll-call of alcohol-related death is: you've got to die of something, so you may as well die happy. That would be fair enough if this nation of drinkers was less keen to show the users of other drugs the steep and thorny way to heaven. The hypocrisy of boozers knows no limit.
When was the last time you heard of an angry husband killing his wife after smoking some dope? The biggest crime he is likely to commit is falling asleep when required for other duties. You don't hear of Ecstasy-crazed youths running riot at Millwall matches. Those under the influence are more likely to be rolling around, hugging the opposition supporters.
Are the country's graveyards full of people who died as a result of rolling too many joints? No. The Home Office reports a total of 255 deaths last year from drugs of every kind, ranging from Ecstasy to crack. That's about one per cent of the alcohol figure.
Yet none of this evidence can put a stopper on the general view that drug-taking, rather than alcohol, is the Big Problem. It is easy to understand the prejudice - according to the police 50 per cent of property crime is the result of drugs. But that is largely because supplying drugs is illegal, inflating the price so that burglary is the only option that some people have to pay for an expensive habit. If the price of spirits went up pounds 100 a shot, many of us would head for the Channel. The rest would be brewing poteen in the back garden or breaking into the neighbours' cellars.
There are, of course, health dangers with drugs. The Home Office figures probably underestimate the risks: many people with HIV and Aids have become infected using dirty needles.
The death earlier this month of Leah Betts, after taking Ecstasy, demonstrates how most drugs can produce a fatal reaction in a small minority. But the total death toll from Ecstasy use in this country is estimated to be about 50: minuscule compared with alcohol-related deaths.
We need a bit of balance in the debate about drink and drugs. The odd snifter is not only sociable, it can be medicinal. Apparently, intoxicated cocks become broody when drunk and will relieve hens from their job of sitting on the eggs. Equally, cancer patients and sufferers from multiple sclerosis swear by a few puffs on a spliff to give them some relief from pain. All narcotic substances have some dangers. The law and health education should reflect these realities in a rational manner.
The Government does not seem to see that point. While it demonises drugs it promotes drinking: in his Budget on Tuesday Kenneth Clarke reduced the duty on spirits for the first time in 100 years. It's high time that we ended the sanctimonious pontificating against drugs and realised the main threats to the social order lie in the bottle.Reuse content