Given that the average person in Scotland buys more than the recommended intake of alcohol on a weekly basis, there really is no denying that this country has a drink problem and that there is a pressing need to do something about it. The most dramatic step taken by the Scottish Government to date has been the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, a controversial measure but one which was credited with a 7.6 per cent fall in shop sales, according to a study published in the BMJ journal.
However, while a minimum price is a way of using market forces to improve our nation’s health, it was never going to be the solution all by itself. What is also required is a broad change in attitudes towards alcohol within society. Too many young people still appear to think that getting drunk is a good idea and underage drinking is a serious problem.
Even in the Borders town of Melrose, there are no calls for teenagers to be banned from celebrating Hogmanay because their “intimidating” drunken behaviour is so bad that it is putting off tourists.
A new study, based on interviews with 50 youths aged 13 to 17 who drink alcohol, found that there had been no impact of minimum pricing on their consumption. While this is a small number of people on which to draw conclusions about behaviour on a national scale, the research, as Alcohol Focus Scotland said, should be “concerning”. “The apparent ease with which these young people are able to acquire alcohol raises serious questions about enforcement of existing licensing legislation and age-verification arrangements which are there to protect young people,” said the group’s Alison Douglas.
There are some who will regard any government interference with our drinking habits as an infringement on civil liberties by a ‘nanny state’. As ever, the trick is to find the balance between helping people do what they would probably accept is the right thing and allowing them to make their own decisions.
While further state intervention may be required before Scotland learns to drink in a reasonably responsible way, there is a limit to how much politicians can do using legislation and the level of such interference the public will tolerate.
However, politicians and other leading figures in society can and should try to bring about a cultural change in how people in Scotland, particularly the young generation, view alcohol.