Prohibition does not work. My son Richard studied prohibition for his history degree at University College, London. He remains convinced that prohibition is an ineffective way of reducing alcohol consumption.
Do we need to reduce alcohol consumption? Of course, it is quite legal to drink and many people enjoy alcohol in a moderate and responsible way. Even Jesus had no problem in turning water into wine at a wedding feast. But at the risk of being labelled a health Nazi, I am very worried about an increase in alcohol consumption, especially here in Britain, but I have no doubt that this applies across the whole of the Western world. Indeed, it is not confined to the West; Russia has a real drink problem too. Estimates of the contribution of alcohol to mortality in Europe are striking: 45,000 deaths from cirrhosis, 50,000 deaths from cancer, 27,000 from accidents and 10,000 suicides. There may be as many as 200,000 episodes of alcohol-induced depression annually, and it has been estimated that 50% of violent crimes are alcohol fuelled along with 40% of murders. One in six cases of child abuse is alcohol-related. In young people, socialization and sexual problems are frequently alcohol-related.
Rather than banning alcohol we should look at incentives prevalent in society and seek to counter them. One of the most important handles we have on alcohol consumption is price. Since 1960 the price of alcohol has halved relative to income. In Finland where the government reduced alcohol excise duty by 33%, there was within a year a 17% increase in sudden deaths involving alcohol. It is estimated that a 10% rise in duty would produce a 28% decrease in alcohol-related deaths.
Alcohol advertising is another pinch-point. Alcohol intake by 11-15 year old children closely parallels the increase in expenditure on alcohol advertising from 1992-2000. 76% of EU citizens agree that alcohol advertising to young people should be banned.
The number of licensed and off-licensed premises have increased by 30% and 65% respectively in the past 50 years. Since the 24 hour availability of alcohol was introduced into Britain three years ago there has been an increase in alcohol-related admissions to accident and emergency departments in hospitals. Some supermarkets have alcohol sales as a major proportion of their business. More availability means more consumption.
In Europe the alcohol industry is worth 45 billions Euros to the economy. However, this is dwarfed by the 125 billion Euro cost of alcohol-related harm.