Thursday 27 October 2016

The alcohol display ban - another slip down the slope

Last year, the UK's Department of Health published a handy myth-buster on the implementation of the tobacco display ban which included the following:

Is restricting the display of tobacco a slippery slope to a nanny state on other products such as unhealthy food, or alcohol? 

No. It is right that tobacco is treated uniquely in regulatory terms, because it is an addictive harmful consumer good.

It's always comforting to hear that there is no slippery slope, but while campaigners demand graphic warnings on alcohol and researchers look into plain packaging for food, the world's top nanny states are getting on with the job of transferring anti-smoking policies to other products. San Francisco recently introduced cigarette-style health warnings on cans of pop and Ireland has dipped into the tobacco control playbook for its new idea of 'booze curtains'.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is a piece of good old-fashioned temperance legislation with the modern twist that the Irish government set up its own sockpuppet lobby group specifically to campaign for it. It includes a sky-high minimum price of €1 and extensive advertising restrictions. As the Department of Health explains, the aim is to 'reduce visibility, accessibility and availability of alcohol'. To that end, it wants to protect shoppers from the untold trauma of seeing beer and wine in convenience stores.

The Irish Independent has got hold of some mock-ups that the government has put together to show what shops will look like when the 'public health' lobby makes Ireland a good, clean, pure country. They are quite something.

Option 6, in particular, has a familiar feel to it, does it not? This is the tobacco display ban being blatantly rolled out to alcohol - an example of tobacco control and the temperance lobby learning from each other.
If this all looks like the denormalisation strategy applied to the 'unique product' of tobacco then you'd be right, but it turns out that tobacco isn't the only unique product. Alcohol, says the Irish government, is 'not an ordinary consumer product'.

As I have been saying for years, drinkers who support fanatical anti-smoking policies are laying the groundwork for their own stigmatisation. This unmistakable example of the slippery slope might be enough to wake some of them from their slumber, but it is probably too late.

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