Leading article: Pubs stay open late. Not many hurt

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Yes, it has been very cold the past few nights. We accept that matters may look rather different in the summer. And, no, we do not imagine that most after-hours drinkers have been sipping pastis and nibbling on a madeleine while engaged in lively discussion with members of their Proust reading-circle in the Dog and Duck.

Nor do we seek to play down the problems that this country faces in its relationship with alcohol. There is a piquancy in the coincidence of the relaxation of drinking law with the passing of George Best, one of the nation's most famous alcoholics. But there is no evidence that restricting availability of alcohol can be relied on to reduce the incidence of alcoholism. Indeed, the evidence is that prohibition does not work. The "common-sense" argument that, if you give people longer to drink, they will drink more, should have been repealed with the 21st Amendment in 1933, which ended Prohibition in the US.

The causes of alcohol dependency go much deeper than mere availability. As our investigation of teenage angst on page 6 suggests, the origins of a youth culture that celebrates drinking to get drunk go deeper than the existence of pubs, bars and clubs. The hysteria that has surrounded flexible opening hours - late in the day, after it was passed with cross-party support - has been a huge exercise in displacement activity. Flexible hours will improve the quality of life for the responsible majority with no net effect on nuisance or problem drinking. It would be a fitting memorial to George Best if the sensible liberalisation of our drinking laws were accompanied by a better understanding of, and action on, the roots of addictive and self-destructive behaviour.

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