Jane Devine: Time to control alcohol culture

23 per cent of people smoke compared with 85 per cent who drink. Picture: Getty
23 per cent of people smoke compared with 85 per cent who drink. Picture: Getty
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I DON’T smoke, I rarely drink and am not overweight so I think I am a fairly objective judge of the messages we are bombarded with about healthy living.

The steps to implement minimum pricing for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes don’t affect me directly and as an independent bystander it is interesting to observe the subtle differences in the way each of these ills of society is being tackled.

There is no doubt that the Scottish Parliament has taken bold and brave steps and is not afraid to take on the might of the tobacco and drinks industries. However, there are, and always have been, subtle differences in the way in which smoking and alcohol rates are managed by government and this, I would argue, is much more indicative of their differing levels of social acceptability than it is reflective of the true costs and harm caused by these drugs.

Out of all the people I would regard as friends, only one of them smokes, yet they all drink. When I was at school there were big pushes to stop children taking up smoking but I don’t remember anything about drinking. My parents were always trying to give up smoking, but only to drink less. And now as an adult, I find myself bombarded by messages telling me not to smoke, but to drink responsibly.

This is not an approach based on evidence, because the evidence says that drinking causes much more harm than smoking and more people do it.

The evidence says that 23 per cent of people smoke compared with 85 per cent who drink. The evidence says the cost to the taxpayer of the harm caused by both these drugs follow the same trends: alcohol costs Scotland £3.6 billion a year, while smoking costs less than a third of that.

So why is the Scottish Government looking at plain packaging for cigarettes and not wine; insisting that smokers smoke outwith public areas, but accepts drinking as part of our culture – a very harmful part?

We all know about the dangers of passive smoking and banning it in public places has at least made some impact on this. The cost of alcohol, though, is not limited to health, nor restricted to the individual doing the drinking.

You don’t hear about a guy who goes out smoking on a Friday night after work and comes home and beats up his wife and kids; nor the woman who causes a five car pile-up on the motorway because she had two fags 
too many before getting behind the wheel.

You do hear those awful stories, and worse, when drink is involved, but none of these health campaigns tell us to stop drinking, just to do it in a better way.

If we really want to reduce harm through drinking we need a more direct approach with real conviction and that means considering whether alcohol is a part of Scottish culture we could do without.