Leading article: Don't demonise drink

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No one can dispute that there is an unhealthy attitude to alcohol in this country. Hopes that liberalising the licensing hours would quickly produce a Continental-style "cafe-culture", where people would sit in the sun slowing sipping a glass of wine, have sadly proved vain. Alcohol consumption is rising across the board, with under-age and binge drinking as prevalent as ever. Doctors report an alarming rise in liver disease, especially among the young.

Yet the complete ban on advertising alcohol, as proposed by the British Medical Association – to include sports and music sponsorship – goes too far. There is certainly a strong case for restricting the times at which alcohol advertising can be shown; surprisingly, the watershed does not apply. Discounting must be recognised as a problem, too. Consumption has risen as alcohol has become relatively cheaper in recent years.

Persuasion, whether from the medical profession or from government ministers, has made no inroads at all into alcohol promotions in clubs and supermarkets, where "happy hours", two-for-one offers and the like have proliferated. Questions remain, too, about the enforcement of age restrictions. Young teenagers are still obtaining alcohol and drinking it outside with impunity, while under-18s regularly gain entry to adult-only clubs. Why add to legislation, if the real problem is enforcing the law as it stands?

In support of the BMA, some might cite the effectiveness of the ban on smoking in public places, which has not only reduced smoking, but made life much more agreeable for the non-smoking majority. Alcohol, however, is not like tobacco, in the sense that it is utterly and indisputably bad for your health. Drinking in moderation has proven benefits, aside from being pleasurable. There are places, such as city pavements, parks and public transport, where drinking is a nuisance. But by-laws exist to tackle this; they should be enforced.

There is a good case for measures to stop alcohol being used as a commercial loss-leader, but no reason why the majority of law-abiding adults should be penalised for the excesses of relatively few. Anything that smacks of prohibition will be counterproductive, as it always is.

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