Bemused indifference from Britain's drinking classes

DECCA AITKENHEAD

The decision to raise the recommended safe limits met with bemused indifference among drinkers in London's West End yesterday lunchtime. The new guidance was widely dismissed as laughable, and irrelevant to people's drinking habits.

"I've never paid any attention to it before, and I won't start now," scoffed Nicky Jones, a civil servant, enjoying a pint of beer in The Salisbury, in Covent Garden.

"On average I suppose I drink about four pints of bitter a day, if not more

"Those official limits are for other people - they're certainly not for me. I enjoy my drink and nobody's going to dictate to me what I should or shouldn't do," she said.

At the nearby Lamb and Flag, another middle-aged female drinker was equally robust. "I wish they'd even it up between men and women. Then I might pay some attention.

"I think it's crap to say that men can drink more than women. The levels don't affect how much I drink - they just affect what I tell my doctor I drink."

Others were sceptical of the credentials of the new recommended levels. Robin Gray, 40, a graphic designer, enjoying a pint with colleagues, asked: "Why on earth should we trust the new figures, when they've admitted that the old ones were pulled out of a hat because they were easily divided by the days of the week?

"There was no scientific value in them, and I don't expect there is in the new ones either."

One colleague, Keith Freshwater, 20, said: "You may have the recommended figure somewhere in the back of your head, but you certainly don't ever go out thinking 'Ooh, I've had this many units this week, I'd better not have any more'."

On average, he said, he drinks a couple of pints a day, plus six or more on a Friday and Saturday night. "Safe levels for health don't worry me. The thing that worries me more is that I used to be able to drink more, and now I don't seem able to."

Hangovers, driving and cost were all cited as more effective deterrents than health worries. Natasha Longworth, 19, a student who admits to drinking well over the old recommended levels, said: "What you think about when you drink is how you are going to feel the next morning - that's all."

Paul Webster, a businessmen in his 40s, accused the Government of bad timing. "Why are they encouraging people to drink a bit more at exactly the same time as they are running a campaign against drink-driving?" he asked.

As the lunchtime trade departed, retired seaman Peter Barnes was still standing at the bar.

He is there every day, he says, from "midday till, well, let's say teatime". And he admitted: "I can't honestly say I've never heard about any of these levels. The only thing that sends me home each day is the bloody price of a pint."

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