Danny Rogers: Alcohol issues need more than good comms

In Monday's excellent Panorama on BBC1, Tony Blair's former PR man Alastair Campbell looked at what he believes is the 'growing problem' of excessive drinking by Britain's professional classes.

Danny Rogers: Alcohol issues need more than good comms
Danny Rogers: Alcohol issues need more than good comms

The documentary, using statistics from the ONS, said professional workers (which presumably includes PROs and journalists) are now the most frequent drinkers in the country. It claimed 41 per cent of professional men drink more than the recommended daily limit of three to four units at least once a week. Women are also drinking much more than they used to, with alcoholic liver disease now split evenly between the sexes. Many who watched the documentary would have been shocked by the stats, case studies and images of diseased livers.

A candid Campbell talked about his own alcoholism and even admitted that his Labour government's liberalisation of licensing laws might have fuelled the problem. He drew the interesting parallel with France, whose restrictions on the promotion of alcohol are much stricter than our own.

But then any government attempting to cut alcohol consumption has always faced an uphill struggle. On the one hand, there is a strong libertarian strand in the British psyche that will always stand up for personal choice and reject a 'nanny state'.

On the other, there has always been a powerful drinks industry lobby fighting any restrictions on promotion, pricing or availability tooth and nail. With a forthcoming register of lobbyists, the exact nature of this relationship may become more transparent.

Diageo, probably this country's biggest alcohol producer, was briefly attacked in the documentary. The filmmakers had unearthed some dodgy-looking marketing documents, which played on the British man's drinking psyche. To be fair, this strategy looked like a discussion rather than a serious marketing proposition - something Diageo confirmed in its right to reply.

But drinks firms are in a difficult position. Even though many - like Diageo - have invested millions in CSR and now purvey responsible drinking messages, the fact is that they can only succeed in the long-term by selling more booze. And the problem is that as a nation we may be already drinking too much.

This Government, despite being short on promotional funds, is looking at new measures to tackle alcohol problems. David Cameron and Nick Clegg publicly addressed the issue last week. But the nation's difficult relationship with the evil hooch - much like Campbell's - is not going to be solved by good comms alone.

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