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Over the past few weeks, we have seen reports about the success achieved in Suffolk through a ‘voluntary’ ban on the sale of strong lager and cider from shops, and there have been suggestions that the scheme may be taken up in other parts of the country.
It is an issue, and a local trend, we have to take seriously. We must accept that lager and cider above seven per cent ABV is disproportionately consumed by problem drinkers. In some cases this is people drinking to get drunk (binge drinkers), in others it is relatively stable individuals in work or study who are over-consuming alcohol and choosing stronger drinks (chronic drinkers).
To be clear, though, the purpose of a scheme such as the one in Ipswich is to help those that are severely alcohol-dependent, with complex problems related to housing, mental health and poverty – people commonly known as ‘street drinkers’. We have to accept that such schemes have their place – but there are important caveats.
The schemes should only take place in well-defined locations where it is specifically street drinking that is the problem. In many cases, where the challenge is binge or under-age drinking, something like a Community Alcohol Partnership would be more effective. Schemes such as the one in Ipswich have to be used as a last resort after other interventions have been tried.
Such schemes should also only be undertaken in partnership with retailers with the objectives and benefits fully communicated to them. They must not be imposed by direct, or implied, threats, and should be used in tandem with work with the street drinkers themselves to address their wider complex needs.
The worst thing we can do as a industry or as individual retailers is ignore the problem. If we fail to acknowledge the problem, or are not willing to discuss solutions, we damage our credibility and forfeit our chance of being seen as the partner we can and should be. The ACS will be engaging with these schemes seeking to learn more, I suggest you do, too.
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