Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 1999

* Fahrenheit 451 *

Imagine if all alcohol advertising were banned. Not just TV ads and posters, but everything. If you ran a pub or off-licence, you wouldn't be able to advertise outside what brands you stocked. You couldn't even put up posters inside, just a plain price list. There would be severe restrictions on the size and design of labels and pumpclips, and a third of each one would be taken up by a health warning. A publication such as "Opening Times", if it was still allowed, would not be able to accept adverts from pubs stating what beers they sold, or even that they sold beer at all. Pubs would even be prevented from saying they belonged to Holts or Robinsons, if that was also the name of a beer. If you wrote to a brewery asking for information about their products, they would not be allowed to tell you anything apart from maybe sending you a printout of their price list.

This all sounds very unlikely and totalitarian, so you may be surprised to learn that it is actually going to happen later this year. Only to tobacco, not alcohol. Of course the two substances are not directly comparable - tobacco is harmful and addictive at all levels of consumption, alcohol only if taken to excess, and there is no alcoholic equivalent of passive smoking. But, on the other hand, tobacco is not a cause of domestic violence and road deaths. Both, in their different ways, are potentially dangerous substances, which are disapproved of by a strong Puritan lobby but bring a kind of pleasure to millions. Every smoker must be aware of the health risks, but by no means all actually want to give up. To many, particularly the young, smoking is a one-finger salute to the patronising "nanny knows best" advice they receive from the authorities.

Undoubtedly there are compelling reasons for strict regulation of tobacco advertising and promotion. Surely, though, consumers of a legal product have a right to information about it in order to make an informed choice, and the implications of banning not only advertising, but any form of dissemination of information, in a supposedly free society, are extremely disturbing. If you are a lover of pubs and beer and the tobacco advertising ban does not worry you, then you are being extremely naïve and short-sighted, because your rights and freedoms may well be next on the list.

* No Nuts is Nuts *

Feeling a touch peckish in the midst of the "Mild Challenge", I was surprised to discover that one pub I visited stocked no crisps or nuts whatsoever. It wasn't an upmarket establishment where such things might be thought to lower the tone; nor was it one that does a big food trade and could offer a wide selection of snacks from the menu. It's difficult to see what can be gained from this policy apart from losing revenue. Indeed, one acquaintance of mine finds it hard to drink a pint without munching crisps at the same time and so, however good the beer, some customers may choose to take their business elsewhere. If any licensee who operates this policy is reading this (and I know the pub in question takes "OT"), then why not write in and give us your reasons?

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