Saturday, September 08, 2007

J.D. Wetherspoon talks sense on underage drinking

I caught an interview with Tim Martin, the founder of the J.D. Wetherspoon pub chain, on the Today programme yesterday morning.

Martin said that the crackdown on underage drinking had in many ways proved counterproductive. Earlier generations of teenagers had learned about alcohol through drinking beer in pubs from the age of about 16. Though their presence there was technically illegal, no one worried about it too much as long as they behaved themselves.

Now they have been forced out of the pubs, teenagers have to congregate in places like shopping centres and pubs. Rather than beer they consume vodka-based drinks and because there is no informal adult supervision, there is more antisocial behaviour.

As Martin says in an article in the Wetherspoon's house magazine quoted by the Guardian:
"The net result of this crackdown, a classic example of displacement activity, is that the far-from-perfect equilibrium, whereby the great majority of British and Irish 'learned' to drink sociably in pubs, has been upset, with the real problem of a culture of excessive consumption generally remaining unaddressed."
And he is obviously right.

It is very easy to dismantle the sort of informal arrangements that controlled underage drinking in the past by passing laws, and almost impossible to put them back again afterwards.

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