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Neo-Prohibitionism Update

Some news headlines from the last seven days:

  • Boris Johnson’s first policy announcement as London mayor: drinking to be illegal on public transport from June 1st
  • Westminster council to prohibit all outdoor drinking (including in Soho)
  • Tesco to ban alcohol sales to parents shopping with their children to discourage under-age drinking
  • Glasgow Celtic and Rangers to remove Carling logo from replica kits sold to children to discourage under-age drinking
  • Binge drinking blamed for 10% rise in crime among girls as young as ten

Ever wished you could just slap a hysterical country around the face? There is no objectivity here whatsoever. Absolutely no research or reasoning that any of these measures will discourage the minority of people who drink dysfunctionally. We’re demonising drink. Independent anthropological research by Brown University in the US shows that it is this demonisation – this removal of drink from the context of ordinary life – that plays a major contribution in developing a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. If you don’t believe me, spend an afternoon on the ferry between Elsinore (Denmark, where drinking laws a relatively liberal) and Helsingor (a couple of miles across the water in Sweden, where dirnking laws are extremely tight). Which nationality do you think are sitting outside cafes in the sun, sipping a beer slowly, watching the world go by? And which do you think is loading up trolleys with beer, tearng open cartons in the street and necking cans as fast as they’re able?




…Tesco to ban alcohol sales to parents shopping with their children to discourage under-age drinking…

While the others are lame this one is stunning.


They removed Magners from my son’s Ospreys rugby shirt — for reasons of taste (or lack of), I would have said.
I don’t have a problem with Boris’ ban on the tube though, I don’t particularly want some old (or young) lush causing a bit of a fracas in the carriage. If you can’t lay off the sauce for several stops that’s not quality drinking.
Was talking with some brewery marketing type recently and got the feeling that they were preparing for a future in which beer advertising was banned.


Boris’s ban is just a gimmick to make him look tough on “public order issues”, regardless of whether this is actually a problem or not. It’s difficult to oppose it without sounding like an alkie, and a good quick win in his first few days.

Damn his shrewdness.

Nice to have you back, by the way.


There is no objectivity here whatsoever. Absolutely no research or reasoning that any of these measures will discourage the minority of people who drink dysfunctionally.

If you could point me to ANY initiative designed to cut alcohol abuse among adults that really worked I’d be interested … the ones that the anti-alcohol lobby CLAIMS work, such as higher taxes, sale restrictions and advertising bans don’t work at all, of course.


I totally missed this and am a bit amazed.

There was all this talk about the smoking ban really hurting pubs and I didn’t see how it would, but if people can’t stand outside with their pint and smoke? This makes no sense and sounds like a nightmare to enforce.

I don’t envy shop staff that would have to police shopping parents. As you say, this seems to foster an unhealthy idea that alcohol is somehow illicit, and may actually have the opposite effect on underage drinking.

Though it might be an improvement if people didn’t drink on the buses and tube, as atj says. I have seen some unpleasant side effects of this activity which I will spare you the details.


Boak – thanks! But I shouldn’t really be back. I’m procrastinating when I should be writing about Calcutta and Hodgson’s India Ale.

ATJ and impymalting – I know what you mean about the tube. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk on public transport and I look askance at people who do – it’s just not classy. But I’m damn well having a party on the circle line on 31st May.

What offends me is being told that we can’t. And it offends me that this was the first thing Boris did on gaining office. Looking at the problems on the tube – the overcrowding, the fact that it’s the most expensive metro in the world, the filth, the signal failures, the rudeness of the staff, I’m astonished that he felt this was a priority. He also talked about people “drinking in an aggressive manner”, which I’m not entirely sure how you do! I’ve seen people being aggressive while drinking, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone swigging from a can in a threatening way.

Paul Garrard

A lot of it is nonsense but I like the idea of banning drinking on buses and in the street. We have a ban on street drinking in Bury St Edmunds and I think it improves the place. Speaking as a lefty Guardian reader, piss heads who untidy the streets with their presence deserve the Edward II treatment!

Nigel Smith

My jaw dropped when I read that about Tesco. I presumed you’d gleaned the item from an April 1 clipping but apparently not.

It doesn’t appear to be a genuine blanket ban though, so common sense may prevail.

Times Online



Of course, prohibition works on every other drug, add alcohol, of course.

Also, drinking has never been legal on the tube.



I certainly see Brewdog as a breath of fresh air in the industry… it’s surely a healthy thing to create craft beers, beers that are more than likely never going to be on your multi-save offers where young folk, and people that want to get drunk cheap can go buy as much mass marketed stuff as they want… but yeh that’s right… pick on the small companies that are doing something positive for the industry!

Laurent Mousson

Pete, as you point out, prohibitionist systems in Sweden, Norway and Finland completely fail to curb alcohol abuse. What they acheive is polarising the alcohol scene atthe extremes, with people who don’t drink at one end, and people who drink jut to get whacked at the other end.
It means the overall alcohol consumption indeed is lower than elsewhere, but since most of the remaining consumption is mere boozing, their statistics on alcohol abuse and alcohol-related violence aren’t lower than in continental Europe at all.

It also means such systems leave little space for civilised, moderate drinking. In fact I suspect it’s the claim we do enjoy the taste of a beer or two now and then that’s unsufferable to neo-prohibitionists.

Denmark on teh othe rhand, is quite interesting. It’s always been more relaxed than other nordic countries in terms of alcohol policy, it did look facts in the face back in 1992 and lowered its taxes to limit booze smuggling with Germany (sth UK governments have all failed to do since then), and their brewing industry, Carlsberg first, has focussed on “good beer with a good meal”, which has done wonders to change public perception of beer.


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