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It's time to do our duty

Published:  18 January, 2007

While so much industry talk in the last few weeks has focused on how much the Government will add on wine this budget - will it be 15p, will it be 50p? - the emphasis on this one issue and this one day rather misses the point.

The industry was about to be severely legislated against, and they needed to do something about it.

And what has been done since then? Well think of zero, and add a large round zero. Supermarket promotions have, if anything, become even more deep cutting. In the last few weeks, Tesco has woken up to the danger with its calls on limiting cheap drinks, and the Portman Group has initiated a discussion about the example set by celebrities swilling beer in public, but it is very little, very late.

In reality the industry has been sleepwalking into this while influential people at The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Alcohol Concern have been lobbying Government on major ways to limit consumption.

Libertarian arguments are all well and good. Yes, people have a right to drink, but these niceties matter little in a hostile lobbying environment in which concrete facts and figures are bandied about, such as the 3 billion over-consumption apparently costs the NHS.

As with tobacco, the passive argument could swing it for the anti-alcohol brigade: diverting so much taxation to cope with alcohol-related illness is unfair on those who don't drink.

So it's no good name-calling the Government or other organisations. Alcohol Concern and the Royal College of Physicians have banded together to form the Alcohol Health Alliance, and major drinks companies, supermarkets, pub companies and industry bodies need to respond with a joint body of their own to promote alcohol, or at least combat the threat. Otherwise "Alcohol Causes Liver Failure" will start to appear on bottles of Californian Chardonnay or Burgundy Grand Cru.

And that appeals even less than a rise in duty.

James Aufenast is deputy editor of Harpers