Blog: Chris Brook-CarterNo smoke and mirrors for the future of alcohol legislation

Chris Brook-Carter | 10 January 2011

Ten years ago, it was only the more shrewd amongst the alcohol sector that looked at the cigarette industry and thought, "there but for the grace of God...". As the authorities systematically attacked the tobacco industry - with tax hikes, advertising restrictions and ever more draconian labelling legislation - many simply could not believe that drinking and smoking could ever be viewed in the same bracket by health campaigners and legislators.

It's far easier now, with ten years of hindsight, to see the similarities between the two industries. Drinks companies have faced a well-organised and aggressive opposition in the anti-alcohol lobby, and, governments in the West have responded with rising "sin taxes" and tightening advertising and labelling restrictions. The only question now is not if alcohol will follow tobacco's fate but to what extent.

So, its interesting to see that Citigroup has today predicted that smoking could "virtually disappear" in Britain within half a century. In the 1960s, just over half of the UK's adult population smoked. But, it's been on the wane since and the huge campaign to educate the public of its serious health consequences - along with the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 - saw that figure drop to a fifth by 2008.

Of course, Citigroup warns that its predictions are extremely long-term. But, for the anti-smoking lobby to have effectively wiped out the cigarette industry in many Western markets in the space of a century would be an extraordinary victory. Can you see a similar end to the alcohol sector a further 30 years on? Let's be realistic, probably not. Drinking is a far more ingrained part of our culture and, importantly, when consumed responsibly, it does not have serious health effects.

But, as an exercise in learning how consumer behaviour can be changed drastically, it should be sounding alarm bells. If the anti-alcohol lobby continues to campaign as hard as it has done in the last decade, can you also not see it having a significant impact on overall consumption by, say, 2050?

It would be easy for drinks companies to dismiss this as alarmist. However, if we had collectively learnt from the attack on tobacco ten years ago, perhaps the drinks sector wouldn't be quite so on the back foot to restrictive legislation as it is now.


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