High booze prices won’t cork binge drink­ing

Pretoria News Weekend - - OPINION - JANET STREET-PORTER

BOOZE has been a big part of my life – liv­ing with an al­co­holic for over 15 years, I know too well how drink­ing can de­stroy a re­la­tion­ship. Love turns into loathing; trust morphs into sus­pi­cion – on a daily ba­sis. All my work­ing life has been spent in an in­dus­try where peo­ple drink ev­ery day. In my 20s as a ju­nior jour­nal­ist, I would hang out in clubs down­ing Cos­mopoli­tans at lunchtime.

Work­ing in tele­vi­sion in my 30s, I was so dis­gusted by the lev­els of booz­ing that I stopped drink­ing al­to­gether for six months. I’ve never man­aged that again – four weeks has been my limit.

But as I’ve got older, the fear of brain dam­age and mem­ory loss has kicked in, so I’ve come to know when to stop: never more than two glasses of wine when alone. I am a con­trol freak, some­one who wants to live to be 100, fo­cused on sur­vival – and yet I find al­co­hol so se­duc­tive.

It doesn’t sur­prise me at all that the death rates from booze among my gen­er­a­tion of women are ris­ing faster than for men, and have risen by a third in the last decade. More women work than ever, and can’t see any­thing wrong with hav­ing a glass or two at the end of the day to wind down. It doesn’t make them prob­lem drinkers – but some­thing more fun­da­men­tal has hap­pened: a change in mind­set.

Many women think it’s their right to drink as much as they want, when­ever they want. Of course it is, but what are the con­se­quences? I have plenty of friends who never leave a bot­tle empty, who proudly say: “I don’t drink three days a week”, but then drink far too much on the other days.

I reg­u­larly see women drink­ing from 11am – gin and ton­ics, huge glasses of nasty white wine and rosé. These aren’t girls out cel­e­brat­ing, but busi­ness­women trav­el­ling in first class, where the drinks are free.

Last week, Scot­land be­came the first coun­try in the world to set a min­i­mum price for al­co­hol, af­ter win­ning a fiveyear le­gal bat­tle in the UK’s Supreme Court. They want to set a min­i­mum price of 50p (R9.33) per unit, which means a bot­tle of wine would cost more than £4.50 and whiskey at least £14.

Scot­land has a real prob­lem with ex­ces­sive drink­ing, said to cause 1 000 deaths a year, not to men­tion the mil­lions spent by the NHS deal­ing with booze-re­lated ill­ness.

Street drink­ing is another so­cial prob­lem in our ma­jor cities.

In Cardiff, the lo­cal po­lice are giv­ing shop­keep­ers breathal­yser kits, ask­ing them not to sell al­co­hol to cus­tomers who reg­is­ter “high”.

It’s il­le­gal to sell booze to any­one who is al­ready drunk, so the re­tailer has a right to pro­tect them­selves from pros­e­cu­tion, but should the po­lice ex­pect shop as­sis­tants to ne­go­ti­ate with cus­tomers who could be un­ruly and ag­gres­sive?

Min­i­mum pric­ing and breathal­y­sers in shops are just straws in the wind when it comes to re­set­ting our trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with booze.I used to think pric­ing was part of the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem, but now I am not so sure.

From my own ex­pe­ri­ence, an al­co­holic will drink any­thing no mat­ter the price. It’s not about the taste, it’s about al­ter­ing your per­cep­tion of the world.

Ad­dicts will still be ad­dicts, what­ever the pric­ing. It’s the same with drugs. In fact, young peo­ple are drink­ing less than my gen­er­a­tion ever did; it’s baby boomers and mid­dle-aged pro­fes­sion­als who need to have a wake-up call – and they are the vot­ers politi­cians can­not af­ford to alien­ate.

If a gen­er­a­tion of older women and thou­sands of pen­sion­ers want to drink too much, there’s not much the govern­ment can do about it. They will say: “It’s our life, not yours to mi­cro­man­age”.

Just hope that to­day’s sen­si­tive snowflakes grow up to be to­mor­row’s sen­si­ble ci­ti­zens.

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