Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 1997

* Mass Delusions *

The government's plans to ban tobacco advertising have inevitably led people to ask why the same shouldn't apply to alcohol. Now, at some dim and distant time in the past, probably the mid-seventies, CAMRA itself adopted a policy of supporting a ban on the "mass media" advertising of alcohol. Presumably the reasoning behind this was that, since most of the advertising spend goes on products such as Carling Black Label and Taboo, a ban would do no harm and might even benefit real ale. That, though, is a dangerous road to go down.

Surely, in a free society, the makers of legal products have the right to advertise them, subject to reasonable controls such as not associating alcohol with sporting success or sexual prowess. If advertising of a product is banned, the implication is that it's something harmful and undesirable, that ideally shouldn't be on sale at all. Given that CAMRA's brief is to campaign for real ale, that isn't exactly the message we want to put across about our preferred tipple, or indeed about alcoholic drinks in general.

Another problem is how to define "mass media". CAMRA's national newspaper "What's Brewing" has a circulation more than many glossy news-stand magazines. "Opening Times" distributes more copies than quite a few paid-for local newspapers. Both publications would be greatly diminished if they couldn't accept beer advertising. And would such a law go so far as to prevent adverts for pubs mentioning which beers they sold? Or even to ban pub advertising entirely - as presumably, under the tobacco ban, you won't be able to advertise the fact that you're a tobacconist?

The whole idea is wrongheaded in theory and unworkable in practice, and shows a rather naive failure to understand the wider issues at stake. There are a number of areas like this where CAMRA is occasionally tempted to make common cause with the anti-drink lobby against the big brewers. CAMRA, though, must remember that, even though it disagrees with the brewers on many points, it is after all a pro-drink lobby itself, and that if you snuggle up with strange bedfellows the results can be highly embarrassing.

* Scarcity Value *

Back in the days when there was only two hours' drinking time at Sunday lunchtime, my local pub used to be busy, sometimes to the point of standing room only, from shortly after twelve right up to two o'clock, as drinkers felt they had to make the most of the limited opportunity. When they extended closing to three, the same amount of trade spread itself out a bit but basically moved back by an hour.

Now that pubs can open all day on Sundays, a lot of people seem to feel that, while they may have the opportunity to have a drink at any time during the day, that doesn't mean they have to take advantage of it. The number of customers right through to seven in the evening is probably less than there once were in a couple of hours, and that's a pattern which has been repeated in a lot of other pubs. While I wouldn't advocate turning the clock back, the old pattern of Sunday opening certainly seems to have been a case of increasing demand by limiting supply.

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