Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Minister right over alcohol crackdown

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland is promising to move swiftly to ban irresponsible drink promotions in pubs.

There is no doubt that the Minister's determination to tackle the problem has been stiffened after meeting the family of a young man who fell in Belfast's River Lagan after consuming a large quantity of alcohol at a drinks promotion in a bar in the nearby Odyssey complex.

The minister also heard that ambulance call-outs to that area treble on the nights when cheap drink is available.

That really should not be surprising. The bars in the area are frequented in the main by young people, many perhaps with meagre finances, who welcome the promotions. And it is human nature that some will over indulge, drink well above the safe limit and place their health and safety at risk.

The promotions are a well-tried - and largely successful - method of pulling in customers at a time when public houses are suffering a decline in trade and while no one in the trade is likely to openly oppose the proposed ban on such promotions, many publicans will see it as another blow to their livelihood.

Nevertheless the minister has a wider responsibility than protecting the trade of publicans. He has to take account of the potential harm excess drinking causes to the population at large - an estimated £680m annually in healthcare, policing, probation and prison services, social services and work absenteeism.

The statistics are damning and show that too many people here drink too heavily and cheap drink can only exacerbate the problem.

Scotland, which has a similar drinking culture, is moving to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol, not only to stop cheap promotions but, even more evidently, the sale of low-cost drink through supermarkets where alcohol can be bought as cheaply as water.

But, just as the increasing price of cigarettes does not deter those who want to smoke, banning cheap alcohol will not stop the hardened drinkers. But it may prevent inexperienced young people taking too much drink for their own good.

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