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Monday, 14 March 2011

Watered Down Booze and Plain Fag Packets

One of the reasons I was so glad the Labour party got knocked out in the last election was that I was under the misapprehension that the Conservatives were less into the interfering in your general business, less keen to be the much criticised "nanny state", and therefore life would be a bit less frustrating for people who like a smoke and a drink and don't wear a pedometer or weigh broccoli before putting it on their plate to ensure that indeed, it is a proper "portion".

But it would appear I was very wrong. More wrong than I was last week when I said, on International Women's Day, that men didn't get a day. Apparently they do, and it is called "Steak and Blowjob Day", and it is today. Use this information however you see fit.

As regular readers will know, I am not a fan of the anti-smoking lobby, and this, I'm afraid, is those bastards again. A few weeks ago it was announced that fags would have to be sold in plain packaging (translation for foreign readers - "cigarettes will be sold in plain white boxes", in case you thought I meant "rent boys will have to dress like accountants"). This is to make them less appealing I guess, but it is bullshit for the following reasons:

1) People buy them because they want or need to set fire to them and inhale the resulting smoke. They do that because it is enjoyable, and because the smoke contains an addictive drug. They do not buy them because they really want a little picture of a camel, or because "ooooh, shiny!".

2) The new packaging actually means you can smoke more, because you can buy one of the cheap, embarrassingly pikey brands and your friends won't notice from the box. It's pretty simple maths - if the fags are cheaper, you can have more!

3) The new packaging is useful. Now, if you want to design something, say a logo for a major sporting event or the Liberal Democrat Party manifesto on the back of a fag packet, you have much more white space.

4) Of course, if you don't like having your cigarettes look all bleak and sad, like they come from some kind of communist nightmare, you always have the option of buying a cigarette case anyway. Or just using an old Marlboro Lights box. I'm saving mine up. Antiques o' the future.

In addition to this pointless new ruling, it was also reported today that drinks companies have made an agreement with the government to reduce the amount of alcohol in the booze, to always display how many "units" there are (because obviously we can't be trusted to work out how pissed something will make us by how strong it is, percentage wise, we have to use the seemingly quite arbitrary system of units, which most people ignore because if you follow it you can only ever have hardly any booze and that is depressing), and also, there will be a 3p "health tax" on those weird super strength lagers.

It seems, from what I've seen, that nobody is happy with this. Alcohol consumers are unhappy because why shouldn't people be allowed to have a pint of Strongbow in 2013 that is as strong as a pint they can have in 2011, or could have probably had in 1975, and because the new weaker drinks won't cost any less, so basically your pants are being had down in the "how drunk can I get for twenty quid?" stakes. Health organisations aren't happy either because they don't think these measures are enough to combat the harmful impacts of alcohol abuse on the nation's health, and because they believe the drinks companies and supermarkets are dictating the terms of the changes. All six organisations in the government's thrilling sounding Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network have refused to partner with the government on this strategy. Drinks companies and supermarkets, in reality, would probably rather things stayed as they are.

There have been many weaker alternatives to popular premium lager brands on the market in recent years, such as Becks Vier and Stella Artois 4, so it's not like there are no options for people who want to drink a weaker pint without having to order the dingo's piss that is Fosters, but essentially, they do taste weaker. Some people do actually drink stronger beers because of the flavour, not because they are in competition with the late George Best. They already made crisps taste all bland by taking all the MSG out of the Skips, why do it to beer, too?

The flavour argument isn't true of course, of the 7.5 per cent plus beers, or "tramp fuels", but I doubt anyone in the grip of a severe enough alcohol addiction that they are drinking that stuff will be put off by a 3p "health tax". Their health is already fucked. This is not how to help them. It's really more of a "piss artist" tax. A tax for being a piss artist. Seems a bit of a bastard thing to do.

Most reasonable people do see that cigarettes and alcohol cause harm, but just making it more expensive and the packaging less attractive won't deter people from doing things that they enjoy (well, it might work with hookers, thinking about it) - are they saying that only poor people ever become alcoholics or die of liver failure? Because that is quite obviously not true. To stop so many people dying you need to make it easy for people for whom drinking has become a problem to get help, and to accept that those problems arise not because alcohol is cheap or strong, or because the people behind Jaegermeister are up to some sort of evil conspiracy, but because people have issues.

And then, to leave everybody else, as in the majority of drinkers, and the pubs and shops who serve them, free to make their choices as adults and as businesses.

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