Ian Monk: Raise a glass to freedom of choice

The Government appears to have the drinks industry in its sights with the chief medical officer's call for drastic price hikes across the board to curb so-called binge drinking.

Since the CMO was the outrider for the Government's ban on smoking in public places, could something similar to his proposals soon be government policy? If so, the drinks industry and its stakeholders will need robust communications plans to protect their interests. The CMO and the Government are already staking out the moral high ground.

The annual cost to the NHS of alcohol abuse is £25bn, we are told. TV news packages portray Hogarthian scenes of drunken abandonment. Reformed alcoholics swamp the airwaves preaching abstinence.

Already the Government is dictating what it intends the language and tone of the debate to be.

There remains, however, plenty to attack about the plans. Of course the drinks industry comms teams will have to ensure they tread a fine balance between social responsibility and excessive hand-wringing.

They might start by pointing out that what is being suggested amounts to little more than price prohibition and that prohibition inevitably creates new, illegal and dangerously unregulated markets.

They could highlight too that, while the plans may force the less well-off to think twice about a drink, they will have little effect on the ability of the better-off to drink themselves into their preferred state of oblivion.

Equally, opinion can be mobilised against the indiscriminate nature of the proposed price hikes. In seeking to prevent the excesses of a minority, the Government would be dipping into the pockets of all drinkers. There is also little indication of where extra sales revenues will go, although it is a safe bet the Exchequer intends to boost its revenues.

The key messages for the drinks lobby should focus on individual choice and responsibility. 'Your round, your choice' could be the toast of millions of voters as they raise a moderate glass to their and the drinks industry's legitimate choices and interests.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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