In Other Words

The last Beer Means Business post was not the only sensational reaction to the new alcohol guidelines. The title of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) press release also used the word ‘prohibition’. I discussed policy making patterns while CAMRA criticised the quality of science. However, it seems that we both failed to establish the link between ‘prohibition’ and the guidelines, but maybe translating them into other words will do.


The UK’s policy related to alcohol is called ‘Harmful Drinking‘ and is based on the strategy and guidelines of the World Health Organisation aimed ‘to reduce alcohol misuse and the harm it causes’. You might wonder what constitutes harmful alcohol consumption, but this ambiguity is over: the new alcohol guidelines do not recognise any level of drinking which can be considered completely safe. In other words, alcohol use is inevitably alcohol abuse.

The mantra of the temperance movement that eventually resulted in the prohibition of trading in alcohol in the USA was almost identical. Although the idea of outright alcohol prohibition might sound far-fetched, especially in light of the result of the American experiment, the mission of public health campaigners have not changed, only their tactics: ‘alcohol control’ is meant to affect consumption through ‘small prohibitions’ as opposed to affecting trading in alcohol as a whole (i.e. American prohibition).

With no ‘official’ safe level of alcohol consumption, the contemporary temperance movement obtained a license to denormalise drinking as drinking is harmful by default. Measures for this purpose can bring bans and regulations following the blueprint developed and tested on tobacco which, similarly, has no safe level of consumption.

NB: Recommended reading for those who still think there has always been and will be alcohol: The Art of  Suppression, an entertaining account of the history of the fight against substance (ab)use by Christopher Snowdon.



Leave a Reply