08 Oct 2009
October 8, 2009

Cigarettes and Alcohol


Here in Falkirk, there are new (but floundering) alcohol laws which forbid filling stations from selling alcohol and make it unlawful for supermarkets to display helpful wine suggestions at the fish counter.

Soon to come, apparently, we have minimum alhohol unit pricing. Across the UK, we deny smokers the right to have a fag with their pint, even when no non-smokers need be present. I appreciate the strong evidence which links excessive drinking, and any smoking, to bad health. There seems to me to be a pretty strong social correlation too. But, at the end of the day, are we not in danger of pushing freewill too far to the margins? And of allowing a kind of Victorian paternalism to creep in by the back door? I think we might be.

It’s tempting for politicians to ‘fill in the blanks’ – legislate too much because it gets easy headlines. And while I couldn’t have more respect for the doctors who tell us what are basic truths, I’m struck by the ‘moral’ dimension of what sometimes comes from the BMA. It seems to me that doctors are like car mechanics – they’re well qualified to tell us the consequences of our choices, our bodies or our cars, but no better suited than anyone else to draw the line between “what’s good for us” and freewill. I’m mindful of the dire consequences of excessive anything, yet I think it’s probably time we stopped filling in the blanks for its own sake and respected people’s personal choices a lot more.