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Forget warnings and labels. Make problem drinkers pay for their excess

11 August 2014

It was news to me that there exists an All Party Commons Committee on Alcohol Misuse, but when you think about it, the notion makes complete sense; for evidence, all they need do is nip down the nearest corridor to talk to colleagues hanging out in any of the several bars in parliament. The members of the committee have now suggested that bottles of alcohol should carry health warnings. It’s all a bit American, isn’t it? Over there, they treat alcohol as part of the substance abuse spectrum, with crack cocaine a bit of the way down from gin. I suppose it does no harm to point out that drinking to excess can play havoc with your liver, and the existing exhortations on spirits — Please Enjoy This Bottle Responsibly — are, I’d say, next to useless.

But it doesn’t quite make the point that ‘alcohol’ is not an adequate description for a substance that ranges from a nice Pinot Noir to Barcardi Breezer. It’s like putting warnings on all fat products, ignoring the perfectly obvious distinction between horrible ‘trans fats’, and a nice bit of olive oil or butter. Nor does ‘alcohol’ make the point sufficiently well that the right sort of alcohol, in moderation, may well be perfectly good for you, whereas the bad stuff, taken in quantity, will kill you.

Actually, Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland health minister, is talking rather more sense when he suggests, ever so tentatively, that alcohol abusers ought to pay the NHS for dealing with their excesses. I can see the obvious objections to the moralism implicit in all this — if you’re going for the drinkers, why not the promiscuous for their interesting STD problems? — but I’m all for a bit of moralism myself. Charging alcohol abusers for their costs to the health service usefully identifies the bad drinkers, while leaving those of us who can handle the ill-effects of too much to drink at home unaffected. A charge would, I’d say, be rather more effective as a health warning than any amount of labelling.

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Show comments
  • sepide

    I believe that would be Doktrin, lover of the black gold owned by your Magna Carta elite (not you).

    لیزینگ خودرو
    خرید و فروش خودرو

    کرکره برقی

  • Richard

    Do you really think that the people with chronic alcohol issues who need to visit hospitals or even their GP will be capable or wanting to pay any sort of charge for this? Completely unrealistic and not thought through at all.

  • paulthorgan

    “I can see the obvious objections to the moralism implicit in all this —
    if you’re going for the drinkers, why not the promiscuous for their
    interesting STD problems?”

    Because Alcohol abuse is not the same as acquiring a disease through normal biological activity.

    A=A, AB

  • Simon Cooke

    What a snobbish little article – worse than that, it’s ignorant of the facts.

    Now I’m not a particular fan of Bacardi Breezer but I do know people who like drinking the stuff and aren’t alcoholics or even problem drinkers. I also know that the alcohol in a Bacardi Breezer is exactly the same stuff as the alcohol in Chateuu Lafitte Rothschilde Premier Cru or indeed Melanie’s ‘nice Pinot Noir’. There isn’t some special kind of bad alcohol they put into the drinks that working class people consume.

    And as for getting people responsible for their own circumstances to pay for emergency treatment – there are over 250,000 hospital admissions every year due to sports injuries. One of the biggest offenders is horse riding. Maybe we should charge them too?

  • McRobbie

    Why not just increase the price of alcohol…if you want to reflect actual costs just get an estimate of last years NHS cost for alcohol related treatments and put it on to the tax on booze..simples…but no chance of being put in practice….too simples.

  • El_Sid

    Nature already has a way of discouraging excessive drinking – the hangover. So we need to encourage hangovers.

    The move away from ale and brown spirits to vodka and alcopops has meant it’s much easier to get smashed with little regret the following morning. This has to change. Reduce duty on anything with lots of congeners, force nightclubs to only serve whisky and Guinness – these whipper-snappers won’t know what’s hit them the following day.

  • swatnan

    First time I’ve been in agreement with the Spectator.
    Revellers and Drunkards and Louts should be made to pay for the damage they cause to themselves, others, and property.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    There are plenty of laws to apply to drunks. If they are not being enforced, what is the point of them? Enforce the law and if there is a real problem beyond health fascists throwing their weight around then deal with what remains. Drunks who are a nuisance in A&E should be dealt with by handing to the police. People who present for treatment should be treated. Once we admit charging on the basis of moral judgments there is no end to it..Oh, and please somebody find a way to stop the prodnoses from running their circular scam of funding, lobbying and regulation. It’s going on right now in the alcohol labelling area. See

  • John Doh!

    How about getting rid of all taxpayer subsidised bars in Westminster, make them pay full price for booze and bretherlise them. If they are drunk at work after lunch or in the evening before votes, sack them immediately and take their pensions.

    Don’t sit around getting p!ssed on taxpayers money and then vote to increase alchohol tax for everyone else, getting drunk at work and lectureing people on rensponsible drinking!

  • John Doh!

    How about charging criminals for the cost of police and court time and for the cost of their incarceration? Drinking is not a crime.

  • saffrin

    I isn’t rocket science, just revoke Tony Bliar’s 24hr laws and supermarket off licence sales.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Having “alcohol abusers” (and who decides the metrics there?) pay the NHS for their care is on a par with making obese people pay more for the extra burden they would be on the NHS. Next we can decide that people who don’t brush their teeth should pay for dental care, and people who don’t eat enough fruit and veg should pay more.

    There is already a movement in certain areas to give the State ownership of children in place of their parents, so why not just go the full totalitarian nightmare already?

  • Smithersjones2013

    One last question? If the drunken lout dies of alcohol poisoning are the NHS supposed to send the bill to the parents?

  • lakelander

    Damned good idea. Give them a bill, payable immediately with a discount or later at 100%. It’s hight time publicly drunken louts were made to take some responsibility for the pressure they put on our public services.

    • Smithersjones2013

      And if you’re going to pick on drunks, why not smokers, or those who drive too fast or dangerously or those who take drugs or those who indulge in rough or dangerous sports? Why should drunks be expected to pay when others who act in risky or socially unacceptable ways costing the taxpayer considerable money get off free?

      • lakelander

        Weird logic you express. Excessive drinking takes too much from you in tax. Make the offenders pay.

  • Smithersjones2013

    And how many of those people won’t be able to afford the charges put on them?. Enough of this never never land nonsense. There is only one potential way of off-setting such expense and that is by charging even more to those who profit from the sale of alcohol.

    Increase the charges for pubs and clubs in entertainment areas to run their businesses and most of all enforce the law as it is. Unless you actively deter people and use what is already available attempting to fine/charge people who haven’t got the money is only going to add to social problems not detract from them

    in other news the All Party Parliamentary committee for Pointless Gestures and Excessive Institutional Fascism has called for all pigs to be tattoed with a low flight warning on their hind quarters just in case they evolve and grow wings.

    Stupid committee, stupid article…….

    • Tom M

      Daft argument. Why should everybody else pay for people who break the law. If they break the law then find a way of making their life a bit more difficult if they can’t be fined.
      At one end of the scale we’ve got people telling us that drugs should be legalised so they can be better controled and stop drug barons making vast amounts of money. The logic of that means cheaper drugs I imagine. Then others who say lets make drinking impossibly expensive to put it out of reach and control it’s use.

      • Smithersjones2013

        Clearly you didn’t read my post properly and as such your response makes no sense at all. I haven’t got time to put you straight other than point out that the vast majority of those who drink excessively are not breaking the law even if they do require medical attention. To open the can of worms that charging them for NHS services would create let alone the associated social and justice issues will only complicate and exacerbate an already serious problem.

        As for the legalization of drugs that will only further exacerbate this country’s drug problems and swell the coffers of the drug barons at the same time (because regulated producers of recreational drugs can never compete on an even playing field with illegal producers)..

        • Tom M

          You didn’t read mine properly either. You made reference to “attempting to fine people who haven’t got the money”. Presumably at that point they have broken the law. Ergo my response of finding an alternative if they haven’t any money. Just don’t make me pay for their irresposibilities by charging me more for what I do responsibly.
          I didn’t suggest leagalising drugs (and would never do so). I drew the comparison between one group of people agitating for an increase in cost of their particular social evil, alcohol, and another the exact opposite the result of whose agitations would reduce the cost of their social evil, drugs. Both cannot be right.

  • Wessex Man

    Agree entirely, I love a drink when someone else is driving but never fall over from it am never ill with it and most certainly don’t end up in Hospital A&E making real patients wait while they’re causing chaos!

    All the jobsworths are at it. I sent an application to Wiltshire County Council on behalf of the political party that I’m a member of and along with the reply received a postage paid envelope with covering letter addressed to Dear Sir/Madam Re Wiltshire’s Big Drink Debate 2014, along with a questionaire that was all of four pages long and very very personal questions.

    Their plan? to build a New Alcohol Strategy for Wiltshire over the next three to four years.

    Meanwhile the roads of Wiltshire are falling to pieces, we’ve not got enough School space or affordable housing, local medical services were shut down long ago! We can rest assured though that we will be nagged to death over a few drinks!

    You couldn’t make it up only they do and quite regular basis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kitty MLB

      Dear WM, you make a point about A&E especially at weekends…its usually full due to the people not wanting to
      use the out of hours service.

      Maybe charging them is the answer, but not labels, most know their limitations….as with everything in life, moderation. But as said before.We are not taught quite young how to handle drink correctly unlike the Med.

  • fundamentallyflawed

    Why not charge people who injure themselves doing DIY? (they should pay a professional)

    Why not charge people who injure themselves playing sports (they should get private medical insurance)

    Why not charge people who are fat (they should go on a diet)

    What is “abuse”? Does anyone who has had a drink require a blood test to determine alcohol levels? Will the charges apply all day or only after a certain time?

    If you require follow up treatment do you need to pay again? Do you need to pay if you are in receipt of certain benefits?

    More charging madness that will only effect a small minority who are deemed to be able to pay

    • Tom M

      Well the logic of your post is without question. The obvious solution to me is the each should have his personal health insurance scheme paying for a percentage of the total.
      Like driving, your approach to the subject and the subsequent effect on the system would determine the cost of your healthcare. As always address people’s self interest for the required result.

  • Kitty MLB

    Yes excessive drinking with people in their 20s is an issue in this
    country, not so much in the mediterranean as young people drink
    with parents at meals.But health warnings on bottles will not stop
    Nanny state needs to be placed in a retirement home, she really
    does.Whats next, warning on meat saying this contains animal,
    warning on sweets saying this is bad for your teeth etc.

    But there is an issue with supermarkets selling very cheap lager
    and cider and we have a culture where young people find it
    amusing to get drunk….no idea how you deal with this…but
    what you suggest isn’t the answer.

    • Colonel Mustard

      It might help if there were more prosecutions for being drunk and disorderly and breaching the Queen’s Peace. Instead we are regaled with TV treating criminals as celebrities and large posses of police people wasting taxpayers money attempting to reason with people rolling around out of their gourd.

      Metropolitan police arrests for drunk and disorderly were as follows:-

      2001 – 20,096 arrests
      2002 – 19,332
      2003 – 17,065
      2004 – 14, 200
      2005 – 9,149
      2006 – 7, 355
      2007 – 5,852
      2008 – 5,761
      2009 – 5,821
      2010 – 5,472

      (There was a sharp drop in arrests by most police forces when New Labour came to power in 1997 – I think we all know why.) However the Met were unable to provide figures for how many of these arrests resulted in prosecution. As APPG are trying to make the case that alcohol abuse is serious enough to warrant action one might think that those esteemed Parliamentarians might be on the case of the police and CPS (especially) rather than worrying about warning labels on wine bottles.

      • Kitty MLB

        Yes Colonel the police need to take it much more seriously.We also have another issue with celebrities
        getting drunk and appearing in magazines so therefore these teenagers and those in their early
        20s probably think it “cool ” to do the same.

      • Tom M

        I quite agree Colonel. What ever happened to “drunk and disorderly” or the law that a barkeeper breaks if he serves someone clearly under the influence?
        I had a discussion a few years ago with a magistrate (on a social level) and asked her the same questions. Why don’t the police just round up all those falling over in the High street on a Friday night? “Can’t be done” she opined. “There isn’t enough space or facilities to hold that many people all week end. Even if we did do something like this it will only move the problem along somewhere else”.

        • Frank

          That is daft, you just ship all the drunks to a collection of tents and say that they have to do obligatory street cleaning on the Monday.

          • Tom M

            I agree but it isn’t happening is it?

      • In2minds

        The Colonel is right. The list showing arrest numbers falling is daft,
        especially as the police now want access to our medical health
        records. This so they can ‘help’ the vulnerable! But by contrast they
        cannot arrest drunks. We are fools for putting up with this.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        The statistics in all things are always ignored if they do not support political thinking.
        The latest report on alcohol abuse showed teenage drinkers were at some of their lowest levels. Pubs across the country are closing due to lack of business (and crippling business rates). Yet the powers that be reinforce the falsehood there is a epidemic of drunkeness ( eagerly helped by fly on the wall tv crews)

    • eclair

      I couldnt agree more but as I still remember a time when I and my aging but undamaged friends also found it amusing to get rat-ar5ed every weekend. Its nothing new.
      I think that unless you lock up the booze, lock up the kids and lock the streets this youth culture will persist for the few years it takes to leave school then get tied to a family and or a mortgage, on a rolling basis. Forget the homilies and admonitions or drug us from the age of 16 or we’ll drug ourselves. At least our parents generation had either the army or their parents to cope with, both equally scary. Thats enough to drive anyone into being secret drinker.

  • Exsugarbae

    Of course we be warned about the dangers of alcohol, look at how we treat it compared to Ecstasy,somebody dying of it is far more likely, why not report overdoses on booze in a similar way.

    The problem with charging people for treatment is many binge drinkers are young and skint, a boring job or no job puts pressure on young people and getting drunk can be an outlet. Imagine a gang of young people drinking, they may be so scared their friend will get a bill they don’t bother getting help. Why not stop pushing cheap booze in the entire country more aggressively than any crack dealer and making a fairer, happier society then being smashed may not be the only release you have,

  • Colonel Mustard

    Some background on the APPG on Alcohol Misuse:-

    Tracy Crouch MP (Chair) Conservative
    Lord Brook – Labour, Public Sector and TUC background
    Fiona Bruce MP – Conservative, Scottish, Evangelical Christian
    Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town – Labour, Fabian,
    Russell Brown MP – Labour, Scottish
    Baroness Finlay of Llandaff – Crossbench, Welsh, Doctor (Health Zealot), tried to introduce public places smoking ban in Wales 3 years before it was implemented, introduced private members bill for ‘opt out’ instead of ‘opt in’ on organ donation

    Secretariat for APPG is Alcohol Concern, a “charity” which receives its main grant funding from:-

    DofE – £222k
    The Welsh Assembly government – £225k
    Comic Relief – £106k

    So, 3 elected representatives, two of whom (67%) are Labour and Scottish and three appointed Lords, one Labour and one Welsh with a vested interest. And a charity that lobbies the government with money from the government.

    Hardly representative of Middle England.

    • you_kid

      The laissez-faire doctrin is something that influenced you all your life. Who knew. Today we know that binge drinking Britain was of course pure 100% proof social engineering – New Labour made that possible.
      Looking forward to you squaring the circle for us …

      • Colonel Mustard

        You’ll be looking forward to it a long time then.

        PS Your German spelling of ‘doctrine’ noted.

        • you_kid

          I believe that would be Doktrin, lover of the black gold owned by a Magna Carta elite (not you).

          • Colonel Mustard

            “Magna Carta elite” is a redundant term dreamed up by a clique of weird Eco-Euro-loons who harass this website and its genuine commentators. The political ‘elite’ in the UK do not understand Magna Carta or protect it and the EU-lunacy threatens it with the Napoleonic Code and the concept of collective bureaucratic officiousness determining what can be done rather than what can’t.

            And I do not “love” black gold whoever it belongs to. So you can GAFY.

            • you_kid

              I am a genuine commentator – I have kindly asked you many times to reflect on the issues of land reforms, I have kindly reminded you that rights in Britain are led top-down, like many other things, you confirmed that by observing how Leveson and the Security and Justice Bills came about, how snooping is now en vogue here, how data and phone data collection is now a uniquely British enterprise as Europe no longer (officially) cares for it’s long term storage and so on. I have also kindly asked a simple question: how Code Nap would affect the common pleb, to which your answer was deafening if I may so recall.

              So what are we left with? Nothing but oil gas coal wind and other nice things firmly in the hand of the *Magna Carta elite* whilst no one cares who takes the bacon, cashes in on the first prize, hits the next jackpot. I do! Because I am a democrat. Or Demokrat, en allemand.

              • Colonel Mustard

                You don’t ask kindly at all. You sneer and mock, wrapping your barely comprehensible comments in all sorts of arcane references, presumptions and inanities like “Magna Carta elite” that show nothing more than an arrogant Anglophobia.

                You are about as genuine as a one-sided thrupenny bit. And I am not here to answer your questions. You are not the inquisitor of an imposed Napoleonic Code. England should not have to accept a French civil code because foreign observers like you who do not understand England and never will think that is better for us, based it appears on the usual socialist baloney.

                Democrat? My a**e. You are about as democratic as the EU.

                • you_kid

                  Two things, Colonel.
                  1- I communicate a perspective. Equating the criticism of what I choose to coin ‘Magna Carta elite’ (my invention) with arrogant Anglophobia is frankly ridiculous. I think you know that. You must know.
                  2- I have a right to communicate my perspective. Perhaps not everywhere, perhaps not here one day, who knows. Whilst my posts will appear as a sneer and mock to some, others will understand that questioning the basis of one’s argument will ultimately lead those with a brain to making a better argument next time or simply confirming their (set) views. That’s all there is to it. It’s not rocket engineering.

      • John Lea

        “Today we know that binge drinking Britain was of course pure 100% proof socially engineered – New Labour made that possible.”

        What utter nonsense. Hard drinking (or binge drinking, if you wish to call it that) has been part of the British character for centuries. There are lines in Shakespeare about it (read Othello, for example). I’m not saying we should be proud of that traditional characteristic – far from it – but patently absurd to say it all began with New Labour.

        • you_kid

          We know that – gin houses were closed for a reason. They also reopened as vodka bars as outlined, for the reasons I have outlined.

  • saffrin

    Scraping the barrel a bit to be picking on drinkers or is this just another instalment of the EU’s hate campaign for anything resembling British tradition.
    That British tradition being getting sh!tfaced of a weekend.
    OK, falling on one’s face on a Saturday night isn’t anything to be proud of but neither is falling of one’s bike or breaking a leg whilst out walking or playing sport.
    All voluntary activities you see, just like going to work in today’s benefit age, voluntary.
    If all injuries from voluntary activities are to carry an NHS charge, what the bleedin’ heck are we paying national insurance for?

  • davidofkent

    ‘But it doesn’t quite make the point that ‘alcohol’ is not an adequate description for a substance that ranges from a nice Pinot Noir to Barcardi Breezer.’

    Of course it is, for goodness sake. A drink with 12 to 14% alcohol (wine) is just as bad for you as a diluted spirit drink (bacardi breezer). Alcohol damages the body, but the body recovers quite quickly if the alcohol is taken in modest proportions. The point is that we all know this. The argument about alcohol and the NHS is simple. Push the drunks in A&E to the back of the queue each time a real emergency turns up. Then charge the drunks £100 for their treatment.

    • Tom M

      Mmm. Just a thought. The drunk arrives at A&E having been beaten up through no fault of his own. He was on his way home and causing no bother to anyone. Where does that leave the Hospital looking to send a bill. Shrug their collective shoulders and forget it, send the bill anyway and see what happens or employ an on site barrister to assess the strength of the drunk’s story.
      As a corolllary to that. During the winter driving along a French road. I came upon a patch of black ice and ended in the ditch. As did some others. The Gendarmes aready on site were hepful and efficient. A few days later a bill arrived for the repair of the central reservation crash barrier. My complaint that I never touched the barrier, supported by photos of my car was accepeted. In conversation with the official he explained the Gendarmes send them details of all people at the scene and the same bill goes to everybody. It’s up to you to prove you weren’t responsible.

  • tjmac7

    The real problem drinkers can’t afford to pay the charge so we would end up paying for their multiple attendances at a & e anyway.

  • Harold Angryperson
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