Tuesday, January 19, 2010

England: New rules to curb drinking games

ChristiansAgainstProhibition mentioned this in the comments section and I thought it was worth posting. Britain has announced new regulations for alcohol that will take effect in April. Most of them appear to be common sense (eg. bar staff will no longer be able to directly pour booze down customers' throats). This is a good example of something I think we often overlook when we are pushing for drug policy reform. As we're pushing for drug regulation, we should also encourage a reexamination of how alcohol is regulated. Here are a couple of my thoughts:

- Large bars & clubs should have at least one bartender fully trained as an addictions counsellor

- Liquor establishments should be required to post warnings about the harms of alcohol

- Significant advertising restrictions for alcoholic beverages

- Warning labels on all alcoholic beverage containers. (Not the small print warnings presently found on beer bottles, but rather large warnings with graphic images of the harm caused by alcohol. For example, a photo of a crumpled car, a woman with a black eye, etc.)

These are just my opinions of course, and not the official LEAP position. What do you think? What kind of warning labels would you design?


  1. I like the idea of advertising restrictions, which have had great results with tobacco here in the US. Since advertising is usually directed at getting new customers, it entails an assertive act of reaching out to the public (as opposed to interacting solely with consenting customers).

    Personally though, I think adults who choose to enter a bar should be free to imbibe however they want, so long as they don't harm others. I'm not big on ideas like banning drinking games, or requiring bars to keep paid addiction specialists on staff (that salary alone could sink a small family-owned bar).

    Warning labels are sort of the same thing to me. They're an intrusion -- a small one, admittedly -- on a consensual interaction between seller and customer. I don't really see a need to interfere at that stage. I'm fine with restricting legal drug dealers in their communication with the public at large, but among consenting adults I'm not sure I see a compelling reason for regulation like that.

  2. Rhayader - you raise some good points, but here's what I like about warning labels:

    1) The more you drink, the more you are exposed to them.

    2) They have the ability to reach underage drinkers, no matter where they drink (behind a school, in a park, forest, etc).

    3) They are a conversation starter about the harms of alcohol.

    4) They're cheap.

    I'll have to do more research on this, as I would really like to do an op-ed on this topic at some point... I'm curious as to what the scientific evidence (if any) says.

  3. Yeah the fact that they're cheap and easy to implement is important. Because of that, it's not something that would really bother me all that much, even if I don't really see much use for it.

    I'd also be interested, though, to see if studies have recorded any measurable benefit from the use of warning labels. While it's not drug-related, one example of a similar requirement is the new law in New York City requiring fast food chains to post calorie content of their food on their in-store menus. The idea was that educating people about the calorie content in a Big Mac might make them think twice about ordering it. Unfortunately for Mayor Bloomberg and his fellow nannies, a Columbia study actually found a slight increase in per-meal calorie content after the menu labeling requirements went into effect. While the increase isn't very significant, it's pretty clear that the menu labeling didn't achieve its stated goal of reducing customer calorie intake.

    Like I said, boosting warning label requirements wouldn't bother me very much because it's a low-overhead requirement. Still though, I'd like to know it actually produced results before supporting it.

  4. Being English, and I speak for most of us in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but we love to bevvy.

    The point in these regulations is that we can have the discussion. If this doesnt work, then we try something else that will encourage more responsible drinking.

    With drugs, we have a "Just say No" approach. And if you happen to say "Yes" then its poor product from an illegal market, and law enforcement step in if you get caught.

    Im glad we can have the discussion on alchol - but when will it come time we can have this discussion on drugs too?

  5. As we all know, prohibition against drugs is, for the most part, well meant, but the unintended and perverse consequences that arise are devastating. Why would we expect prohibitions against alcohol advertising to be any different, or any more effective? I will go even further than Rhayader and say that other than enforcing prohibitions against force and fraud, government should not be involved in the exchange of goods between consenting adults in any way.

  6. The idea to put graphic images on ALL alcoholic beverage containers is beyond any kind of rational sense. These images cause people to feel negative emotions. You're forcing negative emotions on people who drink responsibly!

    There's something seriously wrong with this idea because it's obviously not going to work very well, and it's just going to make people hate the government more than they already do.


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