Yesterday I went to a conference arranged by the charity Alcohol Research UK. The name of the conference was “Alcohol and British Society”.
It was useful to go to a conference where representatives from Government, the Health Alliance, and a whole lot of health practitioners came together to discuss current issues in the politics of alcohol in Britain. The alcohol industry was present, too.
The entire day was spent analysing settings, assets, inequalities, developmental epidemiology and prevention, as well as sharing ideas and debating amongst ourselves in the tea breaks.
As is often the case, the most interesting debates came at the very end of the day. Professor Keith Humphreys who has a background from alcohol policy making in the White House gave a brilliant speech on science and British policy and how it responds to alcohol problems. He argued that Government wants to hear one clear and consistent message on how to tackle problems with alcohol in society.
When PM Cameron released the new Alcohol Strategy in 2012 he said;
“My message is simple. We can’t go on like this. We have to tackle the scourge of violence caused by binge drinking. And we have to do it now.”
Anyone who has ever listened to Mr. Cameron speak will know that he uses the phrase “Let me be absolutely clear” a lot, and in this quote he’s saying that he has a clear message, it needs to happen now and the problem is binge drinking. No confusing messages.
This is not just Cameron, in past times it may have been foetal alcohol syndrome that has been on the agenda, or domestic violence, or street crime, or something else. What the Government will never want to use are terms such as “misuse of alcohol”. That is much too generic and hard to understand and highly unpopular with the public. This is where it gets tricky to work as a health promoter. To get alcohol up on the agenda there will need to be the “flavour of the month” topic to direct attention and blame on. This is something the industry is using with great skill; at the moment it’s putting the blame on bad parenting.
However, as an ordinary human being, to be constantly lobbied from every possible direction to consume more alcohol whether we are going shopping, playing sports, going to University, having a romantic evening or even celebrating Mother’s Day, it is not making it easy for making conscious choices for a healthy lifestyle.
As one delegate put it “Alcohol has become the fifth element to British Society”.