Calling time on 'happy hour'

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The Independent Online

The decision of the British Beer and Pub Association to ban "happy hours" is welcome. These cut-price drinking periods encourage people to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol, far too quickly. They have a central role in our malign binge-drinking culture. Although the move affects only around half of the UK's bars and pubs, it is not unrealistic to expect that this initiative will spread - especially as many of the most influential chains are involved. Will it be long before happy hours disappear?

The decision of the British Beer and Pub Association to ban "happy hours" is welcome. These cut-price drinking periods encourage people to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol, far too quickly. They have a central role in our malign binge-drinking culture. Although the move affects only around half of the UK's bars and pubs, it is not unrealistic to expect that this initiative will spread - especially as many of the most influential chains are involved. Will it be long before happy hours disappear?

And it is not just happy hours that are under threat. The BBPA also promises to stop such promotions as "two-for-one" offers, that encourage the public to drink more than they otherwise would. There is even a debate about whether imposing a minimum price on a unit of alcohol would be a contravention of EU competition law. All this is encouraging. It shows the British drinks industry has accepted it has a social duty to discourage excessive drinking and the violent behaviour it than can result from it. The Government had been discussing a ban on happy hours for some time, but it was always better that such a move came from within the industry itself.

Yesterday's announcement shows it is possible for a market to take a long-term and responsible view. While pubs that ditch happy hours may initially lose some money, they could well make it up in other areas. It costs the pub industry £60m each year to employ door staff and install CCTV. If their customers were better behaved - less drunk, that is - these measures would not be needed and pubs would save money. By becoming more pleasant places, they would also attract more customers.

The drinks industry also appears to have successfully gauged the public mood. People are fed up with their town centres becoming no-go areas on Saturday night as a result of binge drinking. By putting its own house in order, the industry appears to have forestalled heavy-handed Government regulation.

New legislation allowing for longer pub and bar hours was greeted with horror last year by some who feared it would open the door to even worse alcoholic excesses than we have at present. But in reality this new flexibility - in conjunction with fewer happy hours - ought to result in more continental drinking habits. The days of people racing to finish their drinks by 11pm and then being turfed on to the streets must be consigned to the past.

Of course, this one move will not eradicate binge drinking. The causes of this destructive phenomenon - common in every social circle nowadays - are too complex. But since there is a good chance it will nudge us in the direction of a more civilised drinking culture, it deserves to be wholeheartedly supported.

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