According to an article in the UK’s Publican, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (or, ironically, NICE), which describes itself as “an independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on promoting good health and preventing and treating ill health,” has made several recommendations for tackling their nation’s alcohol abuse problems.
I’ll skip most of these. Not only have they been floated before, but I and many others have discredited them before. They recommend the old saws; minimum pricing, limiting the number of places in a given area where alcohol may be purchased and a total advertising ban. Most of them are nonsense, but here’s the one that sticks out this time around.
“Protection of the public’s health” should be added to the current licensing objectives.
What that means essentially, is that NICE wants pubs to be legally responsible for individual customers’ behavior as a condition of being licensed by the government to sell alcohol. There are already laws, at least on this side of the pond, where bartenders can’t serve a person who is obviously intoxicated or at least over-intoxicated. I don’t know if the UK has a similar law.
I’ve never liked these kinds of laws, because they’re overly paternalistic. They remove personal responsibility and place it on businesses, and their employees, to determine for someone when they’ve had enough. Now obviously, there are some people for whom their behavior makes this very easy and those people should not be served more alcohol. No bar I know wants to keep serving a belligerent or sloppy drunk. It’s not really good for business for a variety of reasons. These laws also give people an excuse to act irresponsibly, knowing they can always blame someone else, using the law to their advantage and avoiding any responsibility on their own part.
But what about the judgment calls? Only an individual can really determine when he or she has had enough. Yes, I understand that there are people who lose their ability to judge when they drink too much. Those people are usually pretty obvious about it. But this is about the minority abusers. The majority can self determine when to stop. But we keep trying to enact laws that affect everyone, even the people who are mature enough to take care of themselves in most situations. We always end of punishing everyone because of the actions of a few. That’s why paternalism is such a bad idea. The government has no business trying to protect people from themselves. There are plenty of other laws for alcohol abusers to break that don’t effect the responsible drinkers.
Then, of course, there’s the freedom to just get drunk if you want to. I wouldn’t advocate this as a lifestyle, but every now and again it feels good to get rip-roaring drunk. As long as you didn’t drive, made plans on how to get home and aren’t bothering other people, why shouldn’t you be allowed to get and maintain yourself in a drunken state? What business is it of the government to try to make sure that never happens, at least not in public. And yet there are laws against public drunkenness? Why?
And the notion that this is about the “public health” is laughable when it’s aimed only at alcohol. At least beer has many proven health benefits. Soda has no health benefits or nutritional value whatsoever, yet no one’s advocating we cut people off when they’ve had too much soda pop. We still sometimes have soda machines in our schools. The obesity and poor health caused by a diet of soda places a burden on any nation’s health care system, yet where’s the hue and cry over that? Red meat has a lot of protein, but over-indulging in eating it can cause many health problems that similarly tax healthcare. Why are restaurant owners allowed to serve someone as big as steak as they want? Why isn’t there a push for legislation limiting the amount of bacon that can be served at a Sunday brunch? Sounds ridiculous, right? But it’s exactly what NICE is proposing. We only find it funny when it’s not about alcohol. With alcohol, we accept that it has to be regulated in such a fashion.
But that’s just years of anti-alcohol propaganda to the point where most people accept that alcohol is inherently evil. It’s not. It can’t be. Alcohol just is. It takes each individual person to determine their own relationship with it. And most get along with it just fine. The great majority of adults can and do drink responsibly their entire lives. No intervention necessary. And that percentage would be even higher if we were allowed to educate our kids about it, if it didn’t carry such a ridiculous stigma created by people opposed to it and if it wasn’t constantly under attack by such people.
I would never argue that there aren’t people who shouldn’t drink or who are unable to handle themselves around alcohol. There will always be such people, just as there are junkies, over-eaters and addictive personalities of every stripe. We cannot eradicate such people or problems by punishing everyone else who doesn’t abuse alcohol, or whatever else we’re trying to stop from being abused. But time and time again, that’s what well-meaning (I continue to hope) government agencies and organizations continue to propose. It’s a shame for the rest of us that they never, ever, work.