Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - March 2001

* Drunk on Half a Bottle? *

Why do drinks industry bodies accept ludicrous official guidelines on alcohol consumption?

There could be no better example of the modern, politically correct attitude to alcohol than a couple sharing a bottle of wine over their evening meal at home. They're combining drink with food, savouring it for the taste more than the effect, and there's no question of rowdiness, drunkenness or drink-driving. So it may come as a surprise to learn that, according to official guidelines, they are drinking to excess. A typical bottle of wine, 750 ml at 12% ABV, contains 9 "units" of alcohol, yet the maximum "safe" daily limits are 3-4 units for men, and 2-3 for women. This underlines just how ludicrous these guidelines are.

In reality, for most adults, there is no significant risk to health unless you routinely drink more than twice this amount. So it is disappointing the way that the drinks industry, in particular the Portman Group (the industry body that aims to promote responsible drinking), seem to accept these figures without question. There is of course a strong whiff of hypocrisy about all this, as the brewers and pub operators know very well that their business depends on people who exceed these official guidelines. If everybody religiously stuck to these limits, scarcely a pub in the country would still be viable. In effect, they are simply paying lip-service to political correctness.

Undoubtedly the drinks industry must encourage sensible drinking and condemn drunkenness and alcohol abuse. But the notion that anyone who drinks more than two pints in a day is guilty of irresponsible drinking is so absurd that nobody outside the anti-drink lobby should give it any credence whatsoever. So isn't it time that official industry bodies started to fight back in defence of genuine moderate drinking and challenge these exaggerated and unscientific pronouncements?

* No Half Measures *

Are we more mature drinkers for shunning half-pints?

One aspect of moderate drinking that seems to be withering on the vine is the half-pint, as I was told by an article I read recently. In the 1950s, many people, particularly the more genteel sort, chose to drink halves of mild or bitter. Now, however, it's dismissed as the kind of rather feeble thing the likes of John Major might do. Real men, and increasingly real women, drink pints.

But in a way this is a symptom of two unfortunate modern attitudes to alcohol, that the main point of drinking is to get drunk, and that drinking should be ringfenced from the rest of life almost as if it was taking hard drugs. All too often, where people might have drunk halves in the past, it's now considered politically incorrect to touch anything stronger than mineral water.

So ironically it would reflect a more mature and tolerant view of alcoholic drinks, and one more like that which applies in France and Italy, if more people were seen with a half-pint in their hands. Why have a sickly coke or an overpriced designer water with a hint of passionfruit when you could have a tasty glass of beer instead?

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