For an institution trying to shed a "nanny state" tag, the government is not having much luck. Yesterday's publication of an alcohol harm reduction strategy for England will only add weight to the nanny jibes, coming in the wake of a similar exercise involving junk food. The new alcohol strategy includes a wearingly familiar series of policy recommendations. But in this case the nanny image is undeserved. That is because alcohol abuse is one of the silent demons of modern life, costing billions of pounds and scaring thousands of lives every year.
The facts are as staggering as a double vodka before breakfast. Up to 1,000 suicides annually are linked to alcohol abuse. A third of all domestic violence incidents, 360,000 each year, are related to alcohol. There are 30,000 hospital admissions for dependence and 22,000 premature deaths annually. The social costs are just as staggering: divorce and homelessness are frequently linked to drinking problems. But this rarely attracts the moral outrage that surrounds many other evanescent panics.
The question is, does the damage to the country from alcohol justify further government intervention? The philosopher John Stuart Mill answered that question: "The limitation in number of beer and spirit-houses, for the express purpose of rendering them more difficult of access, and diminishing the occasions of temptation, not only exposes all to an inconvenience because there are some by whom the facility would be abused, but is suited only to a state of society in which the labouring classes are avowedly treated as children or savages".
Similarly, given that millions of people in the UK regularly consume alcohol without problems, any prohibitive increases in taxes will disproportionately fall on blameless moderate drinkers. But increased powers for the police and councils to revoke the licenses of flagrant abusers are justified, as is a tougher line on offenses resulting from drunkenness. Further than that, the government is left with the important but unglamorous task of treating its citizens like adults and engaging them in civilised debate.
Good to know that's it's the world that went mad, not me.