Time, Gentlemen Please: Last Calls for the Nanny State
Having grown up in suburban South-East England, I’ve seen my share of trashy nights out drinking cut-price vodka in a park, which was probably bought by someone’s older brother or swiped from parent’s liquor cabinets after we all failed to get served. That was what constituted a good night out for a 15 year old in Cambridgeshire, and indeed the rest of the UK. Heavy drinking has become a part of British culture, which is why we have some of the highest rates of binge drinking worldwide. But why is this the case? Why do Brits start drinking so much so early? I believe it has something to do with the strict controls placed on pubs and corner shops in the UK: while these laws intend to prevent underage drinking, all they seem to do is drive the culture underground, making kids drink far more, considerably faster, and with substantially less supervision.
This dangerous culture of unsupervised underage drinking is often in the news, most recently with reports of a 16-Year-Old girl, who sadly died after drinking Frosty Jacks cider. I myself remember drinking this same cider; it’s cheap, strong (one bottle is the equivalent of 22 shots of vodka), and easy to obtain and conceal. In the UK, the drink has almost become synonymous with drunk teenagers.
Controversially, however, I don’t think that the issue lies in teenage drinking. It’s a natural part of growing up, and isn’t exclusive to the UK. The issue lies solely with the environments in which the drinking occurs. Regulations in the UK, namely the Challenge 21/Challenge 25 schemes, which make it almost impossible for teenagers to receive service in pubs or shops. While this may sound like a good thing, once again the road to hell has been paved with good intentions. While teenagers aren’t drinking in pubs anymore, where the barman is able to control the amount of alcohol they consume and able to deal with any emergencies, they are now drinking in privacy, away from police, where no one is around to teach them how to drink. Instead of drinking a couple of pints in a nice safe pub, they’re necking shots of vodka and huge three-liter bottles of cheap cider in parks, fields, and underpasses.
Once again, the failure of prohibition and the nanny state has been highlighted. In a country where 16 is old enough to get married and join the army, teenagers are forced to drink in privacy, away from the watchful eye of the pub landlord. While attempts to reduce underage drinking may be noble at heart, all they’ve done is driven it underground (as happens in most cases of prohibition). That’s why, between 2011/2012 and 2013/2014, 13,725 under-18’s admitted to hospital with alcohol related problems.
So, what is the solution to the issue of underage drinking? Easy. Let them get on with it. Let bartenders control the amount of booze they drink. Let teenagers experience their first drink in a comfy pub, not in wet field somewhere. Just like death and theft taxes, teenage drinking is inevitable. We can’t continue with this ‘Do as we say, not as we do’ approach to drinking. Let teenagers learn how to drink responsibly.
This laissez-faire approach is something that used to be understood by our continental neighbours, but unfortunately they too have gone the way of the statist. France, for example, saw only modest increases in teenage drinking rates in the years leading up to 2009, when it implemented stricter measures. As expected, teenagers began drinking and smoking far, far more following these measures than they did before. Perhaps it’s time we learned from the French mistake and went back to the mindset of ‘the good old days’, when teenagers could walk into their local pub and, if the landlord was in a good mood, they could enjoy one or two drinks before being shown the door. This culture of trust between establishment and customer is something I feel Britain greatly needs to get back to. It’s better to have the teenagers down the local public house than on the streets, and many business owners know this. If we remove the restrictions placed on pubs, we can help stop this dangerous underground drinking culture.
Pubs across the UK should be calling time on the nanny state and taking control of their businesses and communities.
Picture: Creative Commons spDuchamp
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