Recent figures show that alcohol misuse costs the nation £7.3 billion in crime and antisocial behaviour and that one woman in five drinks at levels hazardous to health, more than 14 units each week (read more). With that in mind you have to wonder, is our country turning into a nation of Buckfast Babes?
I’m in no way singling out Buckfast Tonic Wine as the root causation factor for a problem. That would be the simplistic manner favoured by politicians and our mostly hyped-up emotive media. I chose the product, now well-known in popular culture but mostly problematical in Scotland, simply as a descriptive analogy.
The brand, unfortunately (arguably) for the Benedictine Monks who produce it at Buckfast Abbey Devon, has become synonymous with the excessive consumption of (mostly) cheap alcohol by our youth. In matter of fact, it is probably little more than a byproduct of the problems we try to attribute to it…
In January 2010 a BBC investigation revealed that Buckfast had been mentioned in 5,638 crime reports in the Strathclyde police area of Scotland. One in 10 of those offences had been violent and 114 times in that period a Buckfast bottle was used as a weapon. Of the offenders who drank alcohol before committing their crimes, 43% said they had drunk Buckfast. In another study of litter around a typical council estate in Scotland, 35% of the items identified as rubbish were Buckfast bottles… (wikipedia.org)
Buckfast’s distributors (rightly) denied that it caused crime, saying the drink made up just 0.5% of Scotland’s alcohol market. However, the brand is considered as so much of a scourge on society north of the border that leading politicians have lobbied to have it banned (see here). Scotland also recently introduced new laws banning ‘irresponsible drinks promotions‘ by retailers and similar political moves are being proposed in England.
But as with many social issues, continuous introduction of new legislation is mostly a half-hearted attempt at finding a realistic answer to the problems being faced. As loopholes to skirt around the legislation are already being pursued in Scotland, what really is the point? Once again, political leadership, and subsequently law enforcement agencies, simply resort to public popularity sound-bite application of additional legislation, in their inane attempts to address difficult issues. As opposed to using existing legislation effectively, and more robustly. Along with real partnership working in a real multi-agency approach.
That said good legislation, and the correct application of it, is only one ‘tool’ in what should be a multi-faceted armoury of the ‘weapons’ used to combat the issues. Even within the Bible Belt states of the USA, that has some of the most robust (and archaic) liquor licensing laws in the world, legislation is failing and any additions to those laws are robustly argued against (see here). So what is the answer to the problem?
Working in the pub trade, I often hear conversations between drinkers, often predominantly female, who take pride in boasting to their peers about their booze intake at home, prior to hitting the town for their night out. People are actually entering their first pub of the night later in the evening, and already well topped up or three parts pissed in many cases. They continue with their booze oblivion quest by quaffing as much as possible, as quickly as possible. The higher the alcohol content of their chosen tipple, so much the better. But why? Additionally, is it really fair to blame the pub trade for the subsequent fallout?
Recently and closer to home, police and business leaders in Scarborough suggested it was ‘time to call time” on 24-hour drinking in the town. Officers said late licences “caused too many alcohol-related problems” (see here). Back in October 2007 it was reported that; “young people in Scarborough drink more alcohol than in any other part of North Yorkshire, with some starting from the age of nine.” Consequently a ‘campaign’ was launched in a bid to tackle the town’s “serious and growing problem with alcohol misuse” (see here). But in August 2011 the problem was still evident and “young drinkers were “being targeted by a new project aimed at cutting their alcohol consumption” (see here). It appears obvious that after four years of ‘concerted effort’, agencies are still failing in their attempts to achieve tangible results.
Far too often these days, especially in areas where there actually is any visible police patrol presence, it appears the licensed trade are now also being used as scapegoats for the problem. The ‘Booze Britain‘ culture is actually born out of a myriad of social and educational factors, not just retail ones. That said, it is right to consider them as a component part of the combined and cumulative causation factors.
But like the availability of supermarket loss leader cheep booze an in general, public houses are not to blame for the anti-social binge drinking problems faced by society. Blaming the pub is also far too simplistic.
Strong-arm tactics hit trade: Over the past year there has been increasing concern about the advice given to police forces from the Home Office in relation to licensed premises. As has been reported in this paper, there have been several examples of what might be called ‘fishing expeditions’ where the police in an area are primed with advice on their powers of arrest and closure that they then try out in a specific area — sometimes with disastrous results for licensees who are caught unawares… (Peter Coulson – Morning Advertiser)
I’m not suggesting for one minute (or naive enough to believe), that all licensees are squeaky clean, neither do they all operate totally appropriate establishments, promoting a drink sensibly message. There will be some just in the business to make money, or grab a fast buck or two from the feckless drinkers in our society. But as already mentioned, these idiots ho regularly drink to excess, don’t only get their ‘supplies’ from the pub trade. The supermarkets must shoulder the lion’s share of blame, at least when it comes to the retail aspects of the problem.
Irrespective of what can be considered as, the unarguable connection between binge drinking and crime or anti-social behaviour, particularly in the case of Buckfast it would appear (see video below), getting drunk is now the sole objective for many. A state that was once an unintended side effect of consuming one too many, during pleasant and simple social interaction. Today we witness people engaged in almost total consumption combat, social interaction (mostly inane) is almost totally ancillary to the personal quest… It is that mentality, possibly but not always born out of social depravation, we need to firstly understand and secondly defeat.
As a slight aside but wholly connected; the correlation between caffeine and alcohol, as an aggravating factor to the problem (see The Buckfast Code – below), should also be taken into consideration in England. After all, energy drinks such as Red Bull et al, have become an increasingly important aspect of Britain’s binge drinking culture. Vodka/Red Bull and Jägerbombs (shot of Jägermeister dropped into a glass of Red Bull, or other energy drink), are now de rigueur components of most drinking sessions ‘enjoyed’ by our younger consumers.
Once again this has nothing to do with the alcohol per se but more a desire for the chemical effects of caffeine, that and it’s perceived attributes i.e. ensures you feel the effects of alchohol quicker, but still keeps you awake.
If, as a society, we have a genuine desire to address these problems it will take more than knee-jerk legislation and sound-bite political rhetoric. Much of what we face today is once again born out of previous social liberalism, that and a failure to educate our Buckfast Babies correctly. Our so far puerile and mostly inefective attempts to make any real and lasting change are failing and will continue to do so. At least until we start setting boundaries of acceptable behaviour again and adopt more holistic methods in our approach to the problems.
Note: As regular readers will be aware; apart from my thirty years as a police officer, I also have a good understanding of all the social and legal issues surrounding pubs and the purveyance of alcohol. This ‘expert’ knowledge comes from strong family links within the licensed trade, as well as enforcing the licensing laws from outside the trade. I suppose I should also include the many hours imbibing as a customer in that expertise!