At least the Government has chosen to kick the latest proposal from the health police into touch. The idea of a minimum charge per unit of alcohol for retail sales is a seductive one, especially given the incidence of binge drinking amongst the young. Yet it managed to provoke James Parnell, not usually a friend of this blog, to say that he didn't think that everyone should suffer for the behaviour of a minority.
Good. I admit that I enjoy a drink from time to time, although not as much as I used to when I was younger. My capacity, for one thing, is reduced as I get older, but I can now drink a higher quality product. Real ales from micro breweries in Suffolk, a nice sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, an Alsace or a pinot noir, all of these meet with my approval. Because I enjoy the taste and the complexity, I might have a bottle of beer with lunch at the weekend, or share a bottle of wine over dinner occasionally.
I learned most of my early lessons with alcohol at university, one of the safest environments in which to do so. You're generally surrounded by friends who will get you home safely and stop you from doing anything too embarrassing. You're also generally too poor to get dangerously drunk, i.e. the point where you do serious damage to yourself. In such an environment, you learn what your limit is, and the art of nursing a drink so that you have the social benefits without the hangover at the end of it.
So, rather than distort the market, wouldn't it be easier to educate young people to drink responsibly and use the existing legislation to punish those who make alcohol freely available to young people. Note the use of the word 'freely'. I'm not suggesting that parents who allow their older children a glass of wine or something similar should be punished. Indeed, parental supervision can only help young people to develop a mature approach to alcohol. But in moderation, that's all...