Leaders: Binge drinking culture must be addressed

The overall cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland has been estimated at well over �300 million a year. Picture: TSPL
The overall cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland has been estimated at well over �300 million a year. Picture: TSPL
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THOUSANDS of Scots being injured while drunk underlines extent of problem for wider society, as well as ambulance staff

Scotland’s Hogmanay celebrations are famous the world over and the role of alcohol in loosening the celebratory wheels on the night has always been at the heart of festivities.

But while most people can enjoy a drink without mishap, an excessive “binge drinking” culture remains widespread across communities and has contributed to the country’s unwelcome sobriquet as the “sick man of Europe”. The latest revelations that ambulance staff are being called out to treat thousands of Scots every year who are so drunk that their state likely contributed to their injury again shows the need for action.

Their inebriated condition invariably sees them end up fighting – and the mess is left for paramedics to clean up. Although the amount Scots are drinking overall is slowly coming down, for too many it remains a significant problem. The SNP government has made it a political priority. Proposals to impose a minimum price on alcohol won the support, eventually, of opposition parties at Holyrood and wider civic society. This would have effectively ended the availability of high strength lagers and ciders being sold cheaper than water in supermarkets.

But opposition from the drinks industry have left these plans parked in the courts for three years after a legal challenge. A recent ruling in the case by the European Court indicates these laudable proposals could be blocked, contravening EU trade laws. Other measures, such as a ban on bulk buy discounts, have had some success, but concerns have since emerged that many retailers are effectively getting around this, particularly where multi-packs are sold at a lower price because a single can or bottle is not available from the same outlet. This was among the problems outgoing Labour MSP Richard Simpson attempted to address with a suite of proposed measures aimed at addressing Scotland’s problem relationship with the bottle. The Bill, which was rejected by the Scottish Government, contained a number of measures which signalled a broader approach to tackling the issue. The prospect of a ban on drink advertising in prominent areas such as outside schools or near sporting venues – where children might see it – won a broad welcome from the medical fraternity.

And, of course, the problem goes beyond the impact on individuals. The overall cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland has been estimated at well over £300 million a year. Even set against an NHS budget of more than £11 billion, the prospect of freeing up a chunk of that cash for other frontline services would be welcome. There is also the potential danger to ambulance staff who are dealing with hundreds of these calls every week. They may encounter threatening drunks, injured as a result of their own drinking. Nicola Sturgeon was always clear that minimum pricing would not provide a “silver bullet” in tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. These latest damning statistics show that whatever the outcome of the European court case, urgent action is still required.

Not too egg-cited by Easter treats yet

If the crowds of bargain hunters and sales tickets peppering our high streets and shopping centres were not disorientating enough, the presence of Easter eggs on shelves in January will have many consumers wondering if they overdid it on the cheeseboard the night before.

As has become a curiously modern tradition, social media networks are throwing up images of chocolate eggs stocked in stores such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, prefaced with messages of incredulity from those who point out Easter is more than three months away.

This trend has become a cornerstone of our shared love of moaning. We gnash our teeth when pumpkins rear their head in late August and groan when selection boxes are on ­display in October’s foothills. The seasons and their attendant treats seem almost indistinguishable.

But the detailed strategy which maps ­consumer behaviour and informs when retailers revolve their stock does not lie: these decisions are not made to generate publicity alone, but to meet demand and generate profit.

Someone out there is buying chocolate eggs when the rest of us are digesting the traditional Ne’erday steak pie, yet no-one will admit it. The psychology at play is not dissimilar to the driver aggrieved at being stuck in a tailback, without realising they are part of the traffic.

There is, of course, much to be said for prudent and timely shopping. Household budgets are increasingly tight and if is considered sensible to spread the cost of Christmas over the year, it is reasonable to ask why the same approach should not apply to Easter. But at this time of goodwill, let’s make a pact and leave the eggs until February at the earliest.